Published: 16:56, 16 September 2019
| Updated: 19:45, 17 September 2019
The government has again refused to guarantee a much-anticipated rail service connecting Kent and the capital will be delivered this year as promised.
Campaigners of all political colours vented their frustration when it was announced 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.
Further delay to rail service between Maidstone and London
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.
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.
Former 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.
Six months later, however, rail minister at the time, Andrew Jones, failed to confirm in a question from Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant that the service would be delivered by Christmas.
Mrs Grant invited new transport secretary Grant Shapps to the county for "a roundtable meeting with commuters and businesses" to discuss concerns but no assurance has been given since.
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has also backed calls for a swift introduction, after a meeting with the party's newly-selected candidate for Maidstone and the Weald, James Willis.
He said: "Fast services to the city that are promised through the Thameslink route are needed to help the County Town do business.
"It's completely irresponsible that the the government and its ministers have left this in a Brexit quagmire and can't be bothered to come to Maidstone to discuss the issue with residents."
Cllr Bird has again written to Mr Shapps and added: “Further delays to the introduction of this long-overdue service would be totally unacceptable.
“Local rail users, residents and businesses are fed up with the continued uncertainty.”
A DfT spokesman was unable to provide a date for when the service is expected to arrive, but said: “The industry is working to provide passengers in Maidstone with regular services to the City of London as soon as possible.
“This government is determined to put passengers first, so it is important any new services do not impact on the reliability and punctuality of existing services used by thousands of people each day.”
More by this authorTom Pyman