By Andy Tong andy@timesoftonbridge.co.uk

GROUND-BREAKING The proposed route from Ashford to Gatwick and Heathrow

A PROPOSAL has been put forward to build a railway line that will link Tonbridge directly to Gatwick and Heathrow airports – in a project costing £10billion.

HS4Air (High Speed for Air) would install a high-speed service linking Ashford to the holiday hubs via Edenbridge.

Engineering consultants Expedition have developed the plan, which they are calling ‘an M25 for high speed trains’.

It would connect the existing HS1 line to the HS2 route at Denham, passing both airports before joining the Great Western Main Line.

Expedition Director Alistair Lenczner, the project leader, said: “HS4Air has been developed to allow rail and aviation infrastructure projects in south-east England that are currently unconnected to become joined up. This will offer greatly enhanced benefits for users.”

He added: “In a way, HS4Air can be regarded as a high-speed railway version of the M25 around London, except that it allows much faster journey times with no congestion and with far less impact on the environment.”

The 87-mile line would run on the existing route from Ashford through Tonbridge to Edenbridge before switching to the new track.

Some services from Ashford would stop at Tonbridge, but those going from the airports into Europe would not do so.

‘HS4Air can be regarded as a high-speed railway version of the M25’

Because the line from Ashford to Tonbridge is almost dead straight, the existing Southeastern line can be readily upgraded to run high-speed trains.

London’s crowded rail networks would benefit from passengers and freight not using its entry and departure points.

Similarly it would relieve pressure on the congested M25 and M23 motorways, bringing environmental benefits to the south-east as well through reduced carbon emissions and less air pollution.

Stronger transport links across south-east England would stimulate economic growth across the region.

John Reynolds, Chairman of the local watchdog Tonbridge Line Commuters, said: “This is an interesting scheme and we would welcome a through service from Kent to Gatwick. Kent is the only county in the south-east not to have one.

‘We would not wish to find any detrimental effect on smaller stations like Leigh and Penshurst’

“But it’s not clear if any services would call at some of the larger areas of population such as Paddock Wood or Edenbridge, let alone at least one train hourly from Tonbridge to Gatwick.

“We certainly would not wish to find any detrimental effect on existing services calling at smaller stations like Leigh and Penshurst.”

Expedition, whose portfolio includes the Olympic Velodrome, claim 20 per cent of HS4Air would run in tunnels to avoid environmental damage and pass under built-up areas.

Tonbridge & Malling Green Party’s Chairman, Howard Porter, said: “Upgrading the Ashford to Tonbridge line would be welcome but we don’t need the rest of this scheme to achieve this.

“Many commuters standing on trains into and out of London will rightly feel the proposed £10billon budget might be better spent -improving existing routes.

“We would like to see better connections between the Medway towns, Tonbridge, Redhill and Gatwick, for example.

“This would bring more local economic benefit at a reduced environmental cost.”