Thousands protest rail changes that could sacrifice smaller stops

    PLANS to cut trains between Tonbridge and Ashford have been met with a public outcry with more than 11,500 people signing a petition to maintain the current service.

    Currently a half-hourly service runs between the two towns, stopping at Paddock Wood, Marden, Staplehurst, Headcorn, Pluckley and Ashford International and terminating at either Dover or Ramsgate.

    Among the options being explored by the Department for Transport is reducing calls at ‘less well used stations’ to deliver an hourly fast service between Tonbridge to Ashford.

    Martin Chambers, who started the campaign, said: “We believe this would be disastrous for the communities, towns and villages along this line and could potentially lead to the closure of the stations altogether.”

    John Reynolds of Tonbridge Line Commuters also felt such changes would be detrimental and that half-hourly trains ‘should continue to call at most of the stations’.

    “While some may argue that the Pluckley service could be reduced to hourly for the time being, it seems likely that housing development envisaged there over the next decade will almost certainly increase usage of that station so that a half-hourly service will be needed in the longer term,” he said, adding that the proposals would hinder schoolchildren who attend school in Tonbridge or Mascalls in Paddock Wood.

    It comes as the government holds a consultation on possible improvements to the rail network, while also looking to find the next operator for the region when Southeastern’s franchise expires in December 2018.

    One of the goals of the Department for Transport is to speed up long-distance journeys which have a high travel time relative to the length of the route.