Published: 09:19, 16 September 2020
A rail service linking Gatwick to the far reaches of east Kent could be on the cards, it has emerged.
Kent County Council (KCC) has drafted a 10-year transport action plan to put political pressure on government bosses and train operators to transform the region's rail system by 2030.
Stephen Gasche, County Hall's rail project manager, outlined his plan to extend an existing Great Western railway line - which runs from Reading to Gatwick via Redhill - to mid and east Kent.
He said: "That would be an extraordinary benefit for the whole of south east England."
His comments came yesterday as he spoke to councillors during a virtual public meeting of KCC's 15-person environment and transport committee.
Mr Gasche added: "It would knit together the counties of south east England with each other and Gatwick outside Greater London.
"If we can get Transport for the South East behind this - who certainly support it in principle - the case could be made for this service to be introduced."
However, he also warned that there are obstacles to overcome, such as having a viable business case.
Mr Gasche said they had previously lobbied the government for a train service to run from Gatwick to Ashford but were met with strong resistance from the Department for Transport due to a business case that "did not stand up".
The case stated that the service would have produced income of 90p for every £1 cost, the KCC environment and transport committee was told.
However, a regional powerhouse, Transport for the South East, is believed to support the idea and its political influence stretches across 16 transport authorities in the region, spanning from Kent to Hampshire and Sussex.
Sevenoaks county councillor David Brazier (Con) said an existing shuttle service running between Tonbridge and Redhill, which is six miles north of Gatwick, remains an "underused asset".
But, the former KCC transport portfolio holder questioned whether Mr Gasche's airport link plan was an "aspiration" or a realistic possibility.
He said: "I remember when I was cabinet member and we discussed these matters you showed me incredibly low traffic figures for the line and little appetite for a service from Ashford to Gatwick.
"Somehow you suggest there is a movement slow astern of that disinterest and the possibility may arise of Tonbridge to Redhill becoming part of a much more comprehensive route from mid and east Kent to Gatwick airport."
In response, Mr Gasche added: "It has to have a business case to justify it but by linking it with the existing Reading to Gatwick service, I believe the case would have a much greater chance of success now."
A lengthy public consultation on the draft 83-page document will run from next Wednesday (Sep 23) to November 17.
Responses will be considered by KCC's cabinet before they decide whether to approve this on January 25, 2021.