1. ITV Report

Rail improvements announced

Southeastern train Photo: Google Images

Train passengers in Kent are set to benefit from a series of improvements that were announced at the 4th Kent Rail Summit today.

The new, improved and planned services include:

Faster services from Thanet following a £10 million investment programme by Network Rail in partnership with Kent County Council, due to begin in the new franchise after 2014An extra extended late night high speed Southeastern service to Sandwich, Deal and Ramsgate leaving London St Pancras International at 23.12, from September 2012Continued funding by Kent County Council for high speed services from Sandwich and Deal, slashing journey times between to capital to just 90 minutes

The extra high speed services are being funded by Kent County Council to boost business confidence and support new employment opportunities in East Kent following Pfizer’s announcement last year to exit their site in Sandwich, and will provide further incentive for new business and job growth in the Discovery Park Enterprise Zone.

Demand for Southeastern’s high speed service to and from Deal and Sandwich has grown steadily since they were launched in September last year. The high speed peak services cut the journey time from Deal to London to approximately 90 minutes, compared to the Mainline service, which is 135 minutes.

The extended, late night high speed service from London St Pancras to Ramsgate, will be welcomed by those working late or enjoying a night out in London.

Bryan Sweetland, Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Environment, Highways and Waste, who chaired the 4th Kent Rail Summit, at County Hall, Maidstone, said:

“The launch of late night high speed services to East Kent is great news for the area, providing a further boost to business. It will significantly benefit tourism, building on the tremendous success of the Turner Centre and resulting increase in visitor numbers.

“This comes as part of our continued support of high speed services to Sandwich and Deal following their successful launch. We aimed to pump-prime the service to boost business and job prospects in the area with a move that was called for by local residents. This is good news for the local people and businesses.

“We worked closely with Southeastern and local MPs to secure high speed rail services at the lowest possible cost, initially on a trial basis for one year. As a result of strong passenger figures we have been able to reduce the level of our revenue support considerably.

“As service use grows the potential to extend it to provide a full timetable throughout the day will be a real possibility, which will boost local business prospects still further."

Vince Lucas, service delivery director for Southeastern said:

“We have been working more closely with Kent County Council than ever before to deliver real improvements for passengers using our services, and we’re seeing a growth in passenger numbers and satisfaction is at an all time high.

“We’re delighted to continue the partnership with Kent County Council to provide high speed services toSandwich and Deal. The service is a key transport link between the coast and London. From September we will be extending the evening service departing 23:12 from St Pancras to also include stops atSandwich, Deal and Ramsgate. This means passengers have another transport option to get home following a night out in London.”

Speaking about Kent's continued support for high speed services, Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover and Deal, said:

“This has been a fantastic start for high speed rail and the benefits to the local community can only increase as the service continues. It is vital for more jobs and money that Deal has better links making it a more viable business option.”

Laura Sandys, MP for South Thanet, said:

“The decision to continue the high speed train to Sandwich, Deal and the Stour Villages shows how successful the service has proven for passengers. With 45 minutes sliced off the average journey into the capital, East Kent is no longer left at the end of the line.

“Over the next year, I am hopeful that businesses considering setting up in the region – particularly on the Pfizer site – will recognise that East Kent is not only a superb place for their employees to live but also within easy reach of London.”

Tom Rowland, a spokesperson for rail user group Trains4Deal, said:

"This is very welcome news. We campaigned for high speed services to run to and from Deal and were delighted by Kent County Council's decision to support faster rail services. The increase in passenger figures shows that there is strong local support for our high speed connections to the capital."

Kent County Council was awarded £5 million in last year's Regional Growth Fund announcement to improve journey times along the Thanet-Ashford line. This will partner investment by Network Rail with the aim to cutting high speed journey times to the capital to under an hour.

Fiona Taylor, Network Rail’s route managing director for Kent, said:

“Recognising the current and future economic and social importance of rail to the county, we are committed to continuing our collaborative working partnership with Southeastern and Kent County Council to further improve the rail network in Kent, providing passengers with faster and more reliable journeys.”

December 2012 timetable consultation:****

Also announced at the summit were the proposed changes to the December 2012 timetable, which is now open to stakeholder consultation ahead of any changes being given final approval by the Department for Transport. The draft proposals include:

Introduction of a ‘fast’ off-peak Mainline service between Ramsgate and London Victoria via Chatham, calling only at Broadstairs, Margate, Birchington-on-Sea, Herne Bay, Whitstable, Faversham, Sittingbourne, Rainham, Gillingham, Chatham, Rochester and Bromley South, andextra capacity to meet growing demand on the high speed service.

Vince Lucas, Southeastern’s service delivery director explained:

“The proposed changes to the December 2012 timetable follow feedback from our stakeholders and passengers. The proposed changes are aimed at delivering even more improvements to journey times and extra capacity on the high speed service. We will be commencing formal consultation with a range of stakeholders and passengers over the next month where we will be seeking feedback on the draft changes ahead of seeking approval from the DfT.”