Call for rail franchise to be switched after Tonbridge line downgrade

    Tom Tugendhat

    PLANS to change the Tonbridge to Redhill train line have been met with universal condemnation. Proposals put forward by Govia Thameslink Railway [GTR], owners of Southern Rail, would end the direct connection between Tonbridge and Victoria.

    Those against the move have until tomorrow [Thursday] to lodge objections.

    The hourly service now calls at Leigh, Penshurst, Edenbridge, Godstone, Nutfield and Redhill before making its way to East Croydon, Clapham Junction and London.

    This would be reduced to a ‘shuttle service’, meaning ‘passengers wishing to travel to London would be required to change trains at Redhill for onward services’.

    ‘The proposal represents a worst of all worlds’

    The train is proposed to run half-hourly in peak periods (before 10am on weekdays) and hourly during off-peak periods.

    A spokesperson for Tonbridge Line Commuters said: “The proposal represents a ‘worst of all worlds’ approach for passengers because not only are direct trains to London being withdrawn but connections at Redhill are being downgraded to slow stoppers.

    “We propose that at least hourly services through to Victoria are maintained and in addition we call for a new semi-fast service from Ashford to Redhill, running through ideally to Gatwick but otherwise running to Reading.

    “If GTR is not interested in developing services then the line should be transferred to the Southeastern franchise so that new services can be developed which meet the latent passenger demand.”

    In a letter to GTR, MP Tom Tugendhat highlighted the volume of students coming to Tonbridge from Edenbridge: “The downgrading of this to a shuttle service would significantly harm the chances of children receiving a reliable service to get to school, impacting the education of hundreds of students in the area.”

    Mr Tugendhat said the proposal, which ends any direct connection to London for people in Leigh and Penshurst would be ‘devastating to local residents and would call into question the future viability of the line’.

    School impact

    Principal of Hayesbrook School Daniel Hatley echoed his anxiety: “These changes are certainly a concern. This line is significant for at least 25 of our students. At the height of the strikes, we had pupils missing 50 per cent of the school day.

    “We ran a special minibus to get them in but if we were to lose the [rail] service it would be simply impractical for many parents who work in the opposite direction.”

    Also changes to timetables have raised questions over student safety. The 16.18 service from Tonbridge to Leigh, Penshurst and Edenbridge is set to be brought forward 20 minutes and schools fear this could mean pupils take time-saving risks to catch the train. If they were to miss the 15.58, they would be facing a wait of nearly an hour for the next one.

    In a letter to parents Tonbridge Grammar School Chair of governors, Sally Dyson wrote: “I know that students would welcome an earlier train coming home, but it needs to be at a time that means they can get to the station from their various schools without risking their lives on what are very congested pavements and crossings in their haste to make the train.”

    Questions have also been raised on the lack of consultation undertaken by GTR.

    Despite their claim that they have been ‘working with other stakeholders in this area to ensure the proposed shuttle provides sufficient services for the majority of passengers’, Mr Tugendhat wrote: “I have yet to meet many people who were aware of these plans.”

    GTR told the Times that the downgrade would allow: “more frequent services through Redhill that passengers from the Tonbridge line can change onto towards Gatwick Airport or London.

    “The reason for this is the need to increase capacity on the Brighton main line to meet the demand for direct services between London and stations south of Redhill, which is considerably greater than the demand for direct services beyond Redhill from Tonbridge and other stations east of Redhill.”

    “We have met with the Tonbridge user group to explain our reasons; the group were not pleased at the idea of a shuttle, but could understand our need to match capacity with demand as closely as possible across the network.”

    The consultation on the proposals closes tomorrow [July 27].

    Readers can comment via the consultation website at Users should first enter the route on which they want to comment (eg Tonbridge to Victoria), clicking on ‘Check your journey’ and then ‘Give your feedback’.

    To respond, please e-mail: