Published: 09:46, 24 April 2019
| Updated: 09:01, 07 August 2019
A host of Kent MPs have taken to the House of Commons to accuse ministers of making a "mess" of deciding who will run the county's rail services.
It was announced earlier this month that a decision on the next South Eastern franchise - in which it has been proposed high speed services from Maidstone and Snodland be cut - had been delayed by the government.
The winner of the franchise was initially expected to be announced in December 2018 before then being pushed back another six months to June.
Tracey Crouch addresses rail minister Andrew Jones. Video: Parliament TV
However, the Department for Transport then announced it had begun talks with current operator Southeastern about an extension of the current franchise, to allow more time to review the bids submitted.
A decision has now been pushed back until November 10 at the earliest, with an option to extend until April 1, 2020.
Rail minister Andrew Jones said that the government was taking such steps "to ensure continuity of services for passengers" and that the additional time was necessary to deliver "the best possible outcome".
However, MPs used a debate in the Commons to express frustration over the continued uncertainty.
Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch said her constituents had been forced to use a service "beset by delays, lack of information and poor rolling stock".
Michael Fallon, who represents Sevenoaks, said Mr Jones had "not quite explained why such a mess has been made of this franchise" and asked why arrangements in other areas had already been agreed, but not in Kent.
Ashford MP Damian Green added: "My constituents are as anxious as anyone about the reasons that lie behind this continuing delay, but they are even more anxious that the improvements we have all been promised under the new franchise do actually happen".
Meanwhile, Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately described it as "disappointing" and Tunbridge Wells' Greg Clark said it was "extremely frustrating".
Mr Jones told the debate: "This is a huge and complex piece of public procurement, and it is right to take the time to make sure we get it right and to finalise this competition.
"The area is one of the most complex on our network; it has a mix of high-speed and commuter services, with a highly intensive use of infrastructure.
"I cannot [say] the date on which we will be able to make the announcement."
MPs also called for the swift introduction of Delay Repay 15 - a compensation system that will give any passenger who has been delayed by 15 minutes or more 25% of their fare back - which Mr Jones confirmed will be a part of all future franchise awards.
After the Kent Messenger first revealed the proposals to cut Maidstone and Snodland's high speed services, there was a fierce backlash from commuters and politicians alike, with more than 2,500 people signing a petition against the plans.