Published: 13:46, 19 October 2018
| Updated: 13:56, 19 October 2018
The government has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring the much-anticipated Thameslink rail service connecting Maidstone and the capital will arrive in the County Town next year.
Campaigners of all political colours vented their frustration last year when it was announced the route, which will see commuters from Maidstone East able to hop on quick, regular trains to London, had been pushed back by 12 months until December 2019.
The service would see trains also stopping at West Malling, Borough Green, Wrotham and Otford before travelling to popular City stations London Bridge, Blackfriars and St Pancras.
However, fears have long been brewing in Maidstone, after the Department for Transport asked bidders for the next south eastern rail franchise what they would do were the Thameslink service “delayed indefinitely”, leaving many critics wondering whether it would ever materialise at all.
Concerns were only exacerbated when Kent County Council received a vague-sounding response from rail minister Jo Johnson last week.
It led Rob Bird, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on KCC, to tell fellow councillors it would likely mean another 12 months of delays, after rail bosses pressed for a slower pace of timetable changes following the chaotic introduction of new rail timetables earlier this year.
But within hours of making that statement, Cllr Bird has since received another letter from transport secretary Chris Grayling, confirming that "from December 2019, new Thameslink services between Maidstone East and Cambridge will also provide an extra two trains per hour in each direction all day".
Cllr Bird said: “This is a huge relief. The timetable changes in May were truly shambolic, so it’s hardly surprising that Maidstone residents and commuters were concerned about the prospect of the Thameslink services being further delayed.
“Thameslink will provide a fast and frequent service to London throughout the day which is vital for Maidstone’s residents and business community. It’s long overdue.”
Mr Grayling said on a visit to Maidstone earlier this year: "I'm genuinely sorry to those people who wanted it right now, it's coming, but what comes has to work, and to me the most important thing is to have this introduced in a way that works."