Published: 17:00, 08 February 2018
The government's transport secretary has promised Maidstone's train services to the capital will not be downgraded in the next rail franchise - but critics remain unconvinced as fears continue to grow locally that the County Town is being left in the dark.
Chris Grayling met with Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant earlier this week after some 1,500 people signed our petition against proposals to scrap high speed trains from Maidstone West to London St Pancras.
Bidders are instead being given the option of running a service to Abbey Wood, however calculations estimate these will be longer than the existing 52-minute high speed route which runs three times each weekday morning and evening.
In a letter to Mrs Grant following the meeting, seen by our sister newspaper, the Kent Messenger, Mr Grayling said: "Firstly I'd like to reassure you that the proposition for the south eastern franchise aims to put the passenger at the heart of the new franchise, including those from Maidstone - changes will only happen where it delivers an improvement for passengers.
"Let me be clear, there is no intention to introduce degradation to today's level of service through the franchise competition.
"The option of an Abbey Wood service reflects that the Thameslink services will become the principle service to and from Maidstone and the city from December 2019."
However, critics point out the proposed Thameslink service has already been delayed several times, and some fear it may never materialise at all after it emerged the Department for Transport asked potential franchisees how they would respond if the introduction of the service was “delayed indefinitely”.
Liberal Democrat councillor James Willis said: "This is a positive step as a result of strong campaigning, but there's still a massive amount of uncertainty caused by the delay to the Thameslink service.
"We need further assurance from the secretary of state both on that and on the high speed services which are popular with the commuters. Actions are better than words."
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