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Kent MPs fight fare hike

Man dies in train tragedy
Man dies in train tragedy

by political editor Paul Francis

Kent MPs have called for a cap on rail fares in the county - defying plans set out in the government's Spending Review.

The group say they do not accept Kent's hard-pressed commuters should be hit with a three per cent increase from 2012.

Several have signed an Early Day Motion urging the government to ensure Kent’s 400,000 rail users don't suffer.

It is feared rail users in Kent would be hit with a disproportionate increase in their fares compared to travellers elsewhere.

The MPs include Chatham and Aylesford's Tracey Crouch and Rochester and Strood's Mark Reckless.

The warning shot across the government’s bows was disclosed by Tonbridge and Malling MP Sir John Stanley at a rail summit at County Hall last night, organsed by the county council.

He also vowed to campaign to persuade the government to strip Southeastern of the franchise if it failed, as part of plans for a two-year extension, to restore so-called ‘classic’ services.

The summit was attended by about 100 people representing rail travellers, along with county councillors and the managing director of Southeastern trains Charles Horton.

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Sir John delivered a scathing assault on Southeastern over the cancellation of services from west Kent to the City and Victoria, accusing the company of "messing up" peoples’ lives.

He was equally forthright in condemning plans for a hike in rail fares, announced as part of the spending review.

"These are difficult and straitened times, we all accept that," Sir John said.

"What I do not accept is that rail passengers on Southeastern should have greater and more severe pain than other those using other operators."

He accused the company of "zero listening" over complaints about the withdrawal of services from west Kent.

"Not only do passengers face increased journey times to stations in London they do not want to get to, but their whole family and business life has been absolutely messed up."

Responding to a series of complaints about fares and the deterioration of services to London and poor connections to High Speed One services from other parts of the county such as Faversham and east Kent, Mr Horton said Southeastern’s hands were effectively tied by the terms of its franchise.

"It is a matter for the Secretary of State, not us as operators."

The government's argument was that it should be rail users who paid more for the costs of running the railway, not the general taxpayer.

He insisted he was not deaf to the criticisms but held out little hope of bringing back services from west Kent in the immediate future.

What do you think? Join the debate by adding your comments below
What do you think? Join the debate by adding your comments below

"Changes are possible but as private sector operators, we have to make sure that they are commercial.

"We do not envisage major changes to the timetable; we cannot see any major commercial opportunities that are being missed," he said.

However, he said that the company was happy to look at bringing back services if other parties contributed the £675,000 estimated subsidy needed for west Kent lines.

Cllr Nick Chard, KCC cabinet member responsible for transport, said the views of rail users would be fundamental in drawing up a rail action plan that KCC was drawing up ahead of the award of the next franchise in 2015.

"We need to start sooner rather than later in telling the Department of Transport what we want from our rail services."

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