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Transport secretary 'genuinely sorry' for delay to Thameslink service connecting Maidstone and London

The government's transport secretary says he is "genuinely sorry" that the proposed Thameslink service connecting Maidstone and the capital has been delayed, and insists that the much-trumpeted rail network will be coming to the County Town soon.

Campaigners of all political colours vented their frustration last year when it was announced that the route, which will see commuters from Maidstone East able to hope 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.

Chris Grayling met with Helen Grant and other Conservative campaigners in Maidstone. (1374809)
Chris Grayling met with Helen Grant and other Conservative campaigners in Maidstone. (1374809)

Fears were then exacerbated when it emerged the Department for Transport had asked bidders for the next south eastern rail franchise - which will be awarded later this year - what they would do were the Thameslink service “delayed indefinitely”, leaving many critics wondering whether it would ever materialise at all.

However, minister Chris Grayling insisted on a visit to Maidstone this week that the project was still very much on track.

"People shouldn't be sceptical because look at what's happening right now - we have new trains, the opening of London Bridge and the connections around that," he said.

"This is probably the most complicated piece of railway this country's ever had, with 24 trains per hour going through central London, and they're going to be driverless - the driver will not control the train as it goes through the centre, such is the intensity of the use of that railway line.

Maidstone East station will benefit from improved rail links, insists transport secretary Chris Grayling. Picture: Martin Apps
Maidstone East station will benefit from improved rail links, insists transport secretary Chris Grayling. Picture: Martin Apps

"To get to the point where that's all working, the team who have been planning the timetables said we need to do this in stages.

"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.

"I don't want people to be given a new service they then discover doesn't work at the start."


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