Government move to reassure thousands of rail petitioners

    SMALLER stations that connect to Tonbridge will not be axed under the government’s latest rail reforms although significant cuts to services remain on the table.

    More than 11,000 people signed a petition against plans to reduce the stops between Ashford and Tonbridge in order to introduce an hourly fast service connecting the two towns.

    The public reaction came after a Department of Transport consultation, which ended on June 30, on improvements to the rail network suggested fewer trains running through Pluckley, Headcorn, Staplehurst, Marden and Paddock Wood.

    Commuters feared it was a slippery slope, that would lead to the cancellation of services through the stations altogether.

    But responding to concerns in a statement last week, the Government ruled out actual station closures, adding: “If services to certain intermediate stops were reduced, hourly fast services could be created between key destinations, offering faster journey times.

    “All intermediate stations would continue to be served by at least an hourly service. We are not proposing to stop services to or from any station.

    “The Department for Transport recognises that this has the potential to inconvenience passengers that currently use those intermediate stations.

    “Any changes would therefore only be made if passengers overall benefitted, and travellers from lesser-used stations were not unduly disadvantaged.”

    The proposed scale back may have an even greater impact if the additional 1,580 houses that feature in Maidstone Borough Council’s Local Plan are to be built in Headcorn, Staplehurst and Marden.  

    Kent County Council also weighed into the debate demanding that the Ashford to Tonbridge line ‘would need to retain its current stopping pattern to reflect the growth in demand at intermediate stations on this route’.

    The Government are also looking for the next rail operator for the region as Southeastern’s franchise expires in December 2018.