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High-speed service in Kent put at risk in franchise options

Kent could lose one of its high-speed train services to London in the next rail franchise, it has emerged.

The Department for Transport recently outlined a series of service requirements for bidders when the new rail franchise is awarded in December.

Buried among them is the option of scrapping high-speed services from Maidstone West via Snodland to the capital – of which there are three every weekday morning and evening – in favour of an alternative route to Abbey Wood, where passengers could continue their journey into the city via Crossrail.

The Kent Messenger newspaper is calling on the Department for Transport to retain the much-valued high speed services from Maidstone West to London St Pancras.
The Kent Messenger newspaper is calling on the Department for Transport to retain the much-valued high speed services from Maidstone West to London St Pancras.

Precise journey times have not been outlined at this stage, but the KM estimates a commute to Canary Wharf or Bond Street via Abbey Wood will be around 20 minutes longer than the current 45-minute high-speed trains to St Pancras.

Transport bosses have insisted, however, that bidders proposing this option would need to demonstrate the clear benefit of doing so over the existing high-speed service.

Nevertheless, Liberal Democrat councillor James Willis was left fuming by the proposal.

Cllr James Willis
Cllr James Willis

“We fought hard to get these services for five years and there is now a real danger we will be going backwards rather than forwards,” he said.

“Maidstone is Kent’s County Town but continues to be left in the cold. We deserve better and we’ll continue fighting to get a positive result in this sorry new year’s tale.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “The winning bidder must run at least two trains per hour between Maidstone West and London St Pancras – however they are urged to introduce more services, as well as bring in other benefits such as shorter journey times.

“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.”

The Kent Messenger newspaper is calling on the Department for Transport to retain the much-valued high speed services from Maidstone West to London St Pancras.
The Kent Messenger newspaper is calling on the Department for Transport to retain the much-valued high speed services from Maidstone West to London St Pancras.

However, rail campaigners point out that the Thameslink project is already behind schedule, after bosses announced last November they were pushing the launch date back a year.

The Kent Messenger has now launched a petition to stop the cut to the service. To sign the petition click here.

Alternatively visit https://www.change.org/p/department-for-transport-save-maidstone-s-high-speed-train-services-to-st-pancras

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