Tonbridge and Malling councillors draw up rail manifesto

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Town hall chiefs have produced a rail manifesto urging the Government to help stop the “consistent deterioration” of services.

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council is seeking improvements in the area as part of the new rail franchise, which is currently held by Southeastern, but due for renewal in 2014.

The document was accompanied by a letter to transport minister Theresa Villiers from cabinet member for transportation Cllr Nicolas Heslop and the late Cllr Mark Worrall – who died last week – calling for discussions about the needs of rail users.

Cllr Heslop said: “This comprehensive rail manifesto has been sent to Ms Villiers and delivers the important message that the borough council wishes to work with her officials to ensure the interests of communities across Tonbridge and Malling are fully reflected in the next rail franchise,” he said.

Key points include:

- peak and inter-peak Thameslink services from Maidstone East through Blackfriars and stations beyond, and a true peak service to Cannon Street

- restoration of the direct rail connections between Tonbridge and Gatwick and two- an-hour service during off-peak times

- extension of the services to large population bases in Kent, specifically to Ashford and also to the Medway towns along the Medway Valley Line

- the Tonbridge to Redhill and Gatwick line reintegrated into the Kent franchise

- the new HS1 service to St Pancras stops at Snodland station

- a fairer mechanism for fare increase in the next franchise

In the letter to Ms Villiers, Tonbridge and Malling council said West Kent was ‘punching below its weight’ economically.

“This situation is all the more perverse given how close the area is to London,” wrote Cllr Heslop.

“There are many complex reasons why this is so but the relatively poor quality of rail services in comparison with other routes around the capital does not help.

“The constant theme has been deep dissatisfaction with the way services operate.

“For this reason, in advance of the tendering of the new franchise from 2014, we are taking the opportunity to submit our rail manifesto for the way we believe the new franchise should be expected to provide for our residents, businesses and local communities.

“We would be keen to arrange a local rail forum involving the Department for Transport if it would help better explain the Government’s aims and aspirations for the next franchise and also to allow discussion on what we consider to be the fundamental needs of rail users.”

Improvements to rail services across the county were the focus of a meeting last week at County Hall.

As well as extra high speed services in east Kent, proposed changes to Southeastern’s December 2012 timetable were announced.

They include the introduction of fast off-peak services between Ramsgate and London Victoria via Chatham and extra capacity to meet growing demand on the high speed service.

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