Published: 15:50, 01 February 2019
| Updated: 20:41, 01 February 2019
Mystery surrounds what could become of a derelict railway track, soon set to be revamped.
Months of work to give the remainder of the disused Folkestone Harbour line a new lease of life is set to start in the coming weeks.
The Great Britain infrastructure manager confirmed that talks are also underway with ‘local stakeholders’ about potential uses for it within the community.
Mark Ellerby, project sponsor for Network Rail South East route, said: “While the station section of the line is now a vibrant hub with shops, cafes, homes and cycle paths, the northern section has become overgrown and blighted by fly-tipping. The work we are doing now to clear the line is a key step towards making the old line a community asset for the enjoyment of local people and visitors.
“It will ultimately be up to future owners to determine the exact use but we have deliberately opted to leave some of the old track in place to allow this to be a feature of any future scheme.”
Despite operating the neighbouring Harbour Arm, it is unlikely that the Folkestone Harbour Company (FHC) will be behind the new plans.
FHC spokesman Peter Bettley said: “FHC’s immediate interest is in the land under its ownership, which ends at the landward side of the restored viaduct. As a neighbour we naturally welcome the remainder of the former railway being tidied up, and are interested to see it put to productive use in the future, though this will probably be brought about by other parties.
“In the meantime we have begun installing interpretation signage that records some of the history of the harbour, including the railway, and we shall be continuing this through the coming months.”
A spokesman for the town's Creative Foundation said: “It is interesting to hear about these developments and we look forward to seeing how this develops further.”
The clearance work on the Harbour Line will carry on until April, when most of the old track, sleepers and lineside equipment will be removed and overgrown vegetation and litter cleared along the the route.
However, some of the old track will be left in place as part of future development of the area.
Railway equipment at the rail road and the footpath crossings at Folly Road will also be removed and the crossings converted to a public highway and public footpath.
Essex had a similar upgrade to one of its former lines called Flitch Way which became a popular nature reserve and walking route.
Network Rail says a final decision on the line's future will be made this summer.
Serving the port from 1849, at its height the Folkestone Harbour station would see dozens of boat trains arrive each day, linking to ferry services bound for Calais and Boulogne.
But with the completion of Dover’s better equipped port and the 1994 breakthrough of the Channel Tunnel, popularity of the Folkestone ferries swiftly nosedived.
The last passenger service to run on the line was in 2001, days after Hoverspeed SeaCat services were moved to Ramsgate.
Following this, it was used for charter services including visiting steam trains. Not long after the line was singled, meaning traffic in both directions would share the same track and those rails are still visible to this day.
Network Rail first announced plans to shut the line a decade ago - a notion which was strongly opposed by campaign group the Remembrance Line Association.
The group, which formed in 2008, has been campaigning for years to preserve and reconnect the harbour railway line, with ex-Ukip leader Henry Bolton one of its prominent members.
Their campaign seeks to place efficient, green rail transport within the emerging seafront development to improve the town’s mobility, with ideas to operate a tram or rail service from the top of town.
But the station’s closure was eventually carried out by the Department for Transport in May 2014 following a consultation period.
In more recent years, the current owners of the station the FHC have begun work to breathe new life into the revamped station, including a plan for pop-up markets, as part of their seafront redevelopment.
Enquiries about about the old line and potential future uses can be directed to CRSouthEast@networkrail.co.uk.