Published: 13:55, 16 October 2021
| Updated: 13:56, 16 October 2021
Long-awaited plans for step-free access at Herne Bay railway station have been given the go-ahead.
Canterbury City Council has waved through the proposals to build a footbridge - fitted with two lifts - over the line, linking the London and coast-bound platforms.
Network Rail is aiming to erect the structure over the next three years, finally giving disabled commuters the chance to travel to the capital from the station.
Currently, they must travel to Whitstable to access the correct platform.
Wheelchair-user Sheila Appleton, who has not been able to walk for the past 14 years, says residents have long been crying out for the improvements.
“I’m very excited – the day I see work starting, I shall put the flags out,” she said.
“It’s been so long that everybody has had to suffer so much with all the inconvenience it brings.
“It’s not only people like me who have had problems – it’s those with buggies, older people, people with luggage. It’s not easy for people.
“Herne Bay’s trying to attract more visitors to the town, but you can’t expect people to come if it’s not very easy to get off the train and get into the town.”
Planning papers submitted by Network Rail say the new bridge will provide “an unobstructed and obstacle-free accessible route” for a wheelchair to safely negotiate.
The operator also wants the development to be no further than 400m “from the station entrance to the appropriate point of entry and exit of trains at platforms”.
The only way to cross the tracks at Herne Bay is through an underpass accessed by steps.
This means that many disabled passengers are forced to take the train from Whitstable to travel to London.
“I’ve had to plan journeys not just an hour or two in advance, but a day or two ahead of time. This is so I can contact the train operators to arrange assistance on the train and transport to Whitstable,” Ms Appleton added.
“With this, I’ll be able to think to myself in the morning ‘it’s a nice day, I can go somewhere’, and I could be on my way.”
The government announced two years ago that Herne Bay railway station was among 73 to receive a share of £300m.
The cash from the Access for All programme is designed to make it easier for disabled people to use the rail network.
"With this, I’ll be able to think to myself in the morning ‘it’s a nice day, I can go somewhere’, and I could be on my way..."
Canterbury East is the first station in the district to have benefitted from the project, having opened a £4.8 million footbridge with lifts in August.
And a spokesman for Network Rail says the upgrades in the Bay are expected to commence by 2024.
He told KentOnline: “We are pleased that the local planning authority has approved our plans for a Department for Transport-funded Access for All scheme for Herne Bay.
“It will ensure that passengers with mobility needs have access to platforms through lifts to both platforms at the station.
“The scheme’s cost is subject to the final engineering design and tendering to our framework of suppliers, which will take place next year.
“It is intended that construction will commence in 2023 or 2024.”