Eurostar commuter link plan needs your help

Contributed by editor on Nov 23, 2004 - 02:04 PM


Businesses and residents are this week being called on to rally to Kent County Council's drive to let domestic passengers use Eurostar trains to get to and from London.

The move would fill the gap between the 30 new 'bullet' trains coming into service between London and Kent coast stations using the rail link in 2009 and the full line being available for use two years earlier.

The move was put forward in October by Kent County Council Leader Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart. Eurostar has said nine spare trains are available.

Sir Sandy told a Kent Partnership conference of more than 200 business and public sector leaders in Ashford on Thursday: "The use of the trains for travel from Kent to London will revolutionise the countys transport links. The journey from the Ebbsfleet area would be cut from 47 minutes at present to just 15. There would also be major time gains from Ashford International.

"Our idea to use Eurostars to fill the gap to 2009 is being seriously looked at by the Department for Transport and I cannot see why the move is not possible. Lille passengers can, for instance, use Eurostars to travel to Paris.

"It would help tremendously if major Kent businesses and organisations who back the idea would make their views known to Transport Secretary Alistair Darling. The alternative is to see the line fully opened and bereft of domestic services until the bullet trains come into service two years later," said Sir Sandy.

He said the move would not just help commuters but benefit existing and new Kent businesses by transforming travelling time to the capital for meetings and wider transport links. "For too long, Kent's rail network has offered a 'cinderella' service. It is 55 minutes from London to Brighton yet over two hours from the capital to the Kent coast. This is just not good enough. Kent residents and businesses deserve far better and we intend to do all we can to improve things."

Sir Sandy said Eurostar's announcement that it would quit Waterloo when the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was fully open and running to St Pancras also offered an opportunity to improve services on existing over-congested Kent lines serving the likes of Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Maidstone, north Kent and Tunbridge Wells. "We must do all we can to ensure the slots vacated by Eurostar trains are opened up for an improved Kent service to Cannon Street, London Bridge, Waterloo and Charing Cross. Kent passengers have suffered standing-room only on overcrowded rush-hour trains for too long. The Eurostar decision provides an opportunity to improve things that must be fought for and obtained."

Sir Sandy told the conference at Ashford that Kent was moving ahead in the battle to improve skills for Kents workforce and prospective new businesses.

Academy schools were on track for Folkestone and Thanet thanks to the involvement of major Kent employers, Saga and Pfizer. Fifty-five schools were on course for specialist status and 12 vocational centres were on stream, the first to be opened in Whitstable.

"Workforce skills are as important as good transport links to ensure business success," said Sir Sandy. "Kent's successful future depends on the right skills being available for the right jobs."