Published: 09:56, 10 April 2019
| Updated: 09:57, 10 April 2019
A decision on the future of Maidstone and Snodland's high speed trains to London has been delayed by the government yet again.
The winner of the new south eastern rail franchise, responsible for running trains across Kent and beyond, was initially expected to be announced in December 2018 before then being pushed back another six months to June.
Buried among a series of service requirements was the option of scrapping high-speed services – 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.
After the Kent Messenger first revealed the proposals, there has been a fierce backlash from commuters and politicians alike, with more than 2,500 people signing a petition against the plans.
Now the Department for Transport has announced it has 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.
Transport campaigner James Willis said: "This is good news in that high speed passengers have assurances for the next year.
"However, it does create further uncertainty for long-term planning in Maidstone and Snodland, which we know is crucial from the amount of businesses who have raised concerns over the potential loss of these services.
"Myself and colleagues will continue to fight for them and for Thameslink services at Maidstone East, which are expected to arrive in December."
David Statham, Southeastern's managing director, said: “We’re proud to have delivered significant investment and improvements in the railway for customers over the life of our franchise.
"We introduced the incredibly successful high speed service – Britain’s first - which slashed journey times between London and Kent, we’ve introduced more services and we’re pleased to have improved customer satisfaction and punctuality.
"We commenced a new Direct Award contract in 2014 and we haven’t stopped working hard to deliver even more for customers, including £70million in train and station refurbishments, smartcard tickets, and 5,000 extra seats.
“Our focus remains squarely on our customers, delivering more improvements and providing the best possible service.”