Published: 19:52, 14 May 2019
| Updated: 11:05, 04 November 2019
The rail minister has been urged to come to Maidstone and face questions over the continued delay of a long-promised train service connecting the town and the capital.
Campaigners of all political colours vented their frustration when it was announced last year the Thameslink 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.
Fears were then exacerbated when it emerged the Department for Transport had asked bidders for the next south eastern rail franchise - the award of which has also been repeatedly delayed - what they would do were the Thameslink service “delayed indefinitely”, leaving many critics wondering whether it would ever materialise at all.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted on a visit to the County Town last April the project was still very much on track, and then reaffirmed that commitment in a letter to Liberal Democrat councillor Rob Bird in October.
However, after being questioned by Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant, Mr Grayling's colleague, Andrew Jones, told the Commons last month he was unable to confirm that timetable would be met after all.
Mrs Grant has now written to Mr Jones demanding he visit the County Town for a public meeting with commuters and local business leaders, who have been calling for the introduction of the service before the end of this year.
It comes as she and other west Kent MPs are set to write together to Mr Grayling again making clear the importance of such trains, and the group are also looking to secure a Commons debate on the issue.
Mrs Grant said: "The City Thameslink service from Maidstone East is long-promised and desperately needed.
"We know it would be a game changer for our County Town; attracting business investment and improving the quality of life of thousands of commuters.
"I am growing increasingly concerned that the service may be delayed again from the current deadline of the end of this year and this is totally unacceptable.
"I have therefore invited the minister to meet with commuters and businesses in Maidstone at a public meeting, so he can understand just how important the proposed service is to our community."
As well as Maidstone East, 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.
A DfT spokesman said: “Govia Thameslink Railway is working with the industry to realise the full benefits of the Thameslink Programme as part of the new timetable process, which includes planning new Thameslink services to and from Kent.
"We have been absolutely clear that our main priority is delivering the reliable services that passengers expect.”
More by this authorTom Pyman