Earlier this week the Kent County Council Cabinet agreed a new Rail Strategy for Kent. Although the strategy repeated the long term ambition of bringing Thameslink to Maidstone, the County Council has now stated that that it would support the introduction of a service terminating at London Blackfriars taking nearly 33% longer than some existing services.
Rob Bird, County Councillor representing Maidstone Central, fears that the climb down could mean that Maidstone rail travellers may never get fast services to City of London.
Ever since the direct rail services from Maidstone East to London Cannon Street were discontinued in 2009, there has been a concerted all-party campaign to secure fast and frequent trains from the County Town to the City of London.
A new Thameslink Service was proposed to provide twice hourly fast services from Maidstone East to London City, calling at West Malling, Borough Green and Otford. The trains would have connected with the Crossrail service at Farringdon and then continued to London St Pancras, eventually terminating at Cambridge.
Crucially, the journey time of these Thameslink trains to London City would have been less than one hour. The introduction of these services was promised 2018 but successive Government Ministers have announced delays and postponements.
However, the KCC Cabinet Member has separately advised that this service will follow the slow 'Catford Loop' line into Central London. These trains will take at least 80 minutes to cover a distance of just 35 miles. The new services will therefore take even longer than existing services from Maidstone East to Central London.
Rob Bird, the Lib Dem County Councillor for Maidstone Central, is far from satisfied: "This slow service to London Blackfriars will do nothing for Maidstone rail travellers and does nothing to support businesses in the County Town. It is also a massive disappointment for other communities which were hoping to benefit from the new Thameslink services.
"By accepting this dismal compromise, the County Council takes the pressure off the Government and the rail operators to deliver the fast Thameslink services. This clearly risks Thameslink being deferred indefinitely.
"Maidstone has been already been waiting far too long for Thameslink. We cannot afford to wait any longer.
"I am therefore calling for this change of Policy to be reviewed at KCC's Scrutiny Committee and I will press for the Cabinet Member to reject this inadequate compromise service."
Martin Cox, Leader of Maidstone Borough Council, added: "I am massively disappointed that the County Council has come out in support of a second rate service to Blackfriars without any consultation with the Borough Council or other key stakeholders. Maidstone residents and business leaders will feel badly let down by the County Council and Government."