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Maidstone to Cambridge train line hopes revived as Kent County Council lobbies government for Thameslink service

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Transport bosses have revived hopes for a new rail connection between Kent and Cambridge after receiving "overwhelming support" from residents.

Kent County Council (KCC) has lobbied the government to introduce a Thameslink service from Maidstone East to Cambridgeshire via London.

Watch: Rail campaigners angry after delayed plans for fast Kent-London service

This would initially stop at Blackfriars and St Pancras before heading 60 miles north to Cambridge.

KCC's rail manager, Stephen Gasche, stressed the plans had "overwhelming" support from people across mid-Kent as he laid out the council's ambitions for train travel over the next decade, during a virtual meeting earlier today.

Speaking to County Hall's Conservative cabinet, he said: "The single most important outcome of all is the provision of the new Thameslink service from Maidstone East to the city. It is something we urge the rail ministers to deliver."

A proposed Thameslink service between Maidstone and London was due to begin in January 2018 after first being mooted in 2016 but has been postponed at least four times.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris indicated his reluctant support for the long-awaited service at a virtual meeting last month but no timeline was agreed.

The service would connect the county town with Cambridge Picture: iStock
The service would connect the county town with Cambridge Picture: iStock
The council is lobbying the government for a new Thameslink service
The council is lobbying the government for a new Thameslink service

Pursuing this further, KCC's Conservative cabinet met earlier today and approved a new rail strategy from 2021 to 2030.

The action plan says Covid has resulted in a huge drop in rail passenger numbers as more people work from home.

But the local authority believes housing growth will result in a higher number of people living in Kent, meaning more investment in rail capacity is essential.

KCC's leader Roger Gough (Con) has welcomed "extraordinary" proposals as County Hall seeks to influence Department for Transport chiefs over a future contract with train operator, Southeastern, within the next two to six years.

The plans include an under-the-hour train service from Dover to London St Pancras and a new link from Canterbury to Gatwick Airport near Crawley.

The service form Maidstone was first mooted in 2016
The service form Maidstone was first mooted in 2016

At cabinet today, KCC's highways boss, Cllr Michael Payne (Con), said there was an "immediate" need to expand additional capacity on high-speed in north and east Kent and "urgent" improvements to trains running in west of the county.

However, KCC's main opposition leader Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), admitted that he was not "totally satisfied" with the proposals and has called for the rail action plan to be reviewed by the scrutiny committee, a panel which he sits on.

The Maidstone county councillor has warned the trains used in the proposed service from Maidstone East to Blackfriars would be "slow" and said they could take Kent passengers around 80 minutes to reach their London destination.

After the cabinet meeting, he said: "It is totally unsatisfactory that KCC cabinet members have accepted this strategy."

Almost 200 rail passengers, industry experts, schools and local authorities took part in a public consultation, which ran from September 23 to November 17 last year.

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