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Anger at Department for Transport plans to include option to scrap Maidstone high speed train services

The government has been criticised after refusing to disclose departmental documents concerning plans to scrap Maidstone’s high speed train services to the capital.

Earlier this year it emerged the Department for Transport (DfT) was giving bidders for the next south eastern rail franchise the option of ditching the popular 52-minute services from Maidstone West to London St Pancras in favour of an alternative route to Abbey Wood, which has been earmarked as a major Crossrail station.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insists there would be no degradation of services but the backlash has been fierce with almost 2,000 passengers signing a Kent Messenger petition against the cuts.

Concerns were exacerbated this week as a bid by the KM to obtain copies of all correspondence within the department relating to the plans, as well as minutes of meetings where the proposals were discussed, was blocked by the DfT. Bosses insisted the material related to formulation of government policy and so was exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act.

Transport campaigner James Willis said: “It’s hard not to be disappointed with how the DfT and Transport Secretary have handled this process. Maidstone residents have a right to know the details behind plans to cut the cherished three high speed services they rely on every day.

Transport campaigner James Willis has slammed the government for not revealing details behind plans to cut Maidstone's high speed trains to the capital (2670876)
Transport campaigner James Willis has slammed the government for not revealing details behind plans to cut Maidstone's high speed trains to the capital (2670876)

“We’ve also tried inviting the DfT to Maidstone for a public meeting but have been fobbed off time and again.”

“Myself, fellow commuters, the councils and the business community will keep up the pressure over the coming weeks and months.”

In its response, the DfT said: “Ministers and officials need to be able to conduct rigorous assessment on any future policy concerning the south eastern rail franchise without the risk of the information being prematurely disclosed, which might close off better options.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling
Transport secretary Chris Grayling

"This information is being withheld as on balance the factors for withholding this information outweighs the factors for releasing it.”

To sign the KM petition, visit tinyurl.com/kmhighspeed

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