Howard's Way 11 May 2006

Contributed by editor on May 11, 2006 - 12:13 AM


HOWARD'S WAY.... a weekly column from Michael Howard MP

May 2006<IMG height=195 hspace=10 src="images/michaelhoward3.jpg" width=130 align=right vspace=10 border=0>

Last Thursday I attended a meeting at the Civic Centre at Folkestone with representatives of Govia, the company that will be responsible for operating high speed rail services between Folkestone and London in 2009.

The meeting, which was also attended by representatives of the local Conservative and Labour Parties, as well as People First and officers of Shepway District Council, had much to discuss.

Top of the list was the objective of ensuring that travel time between Folkestone Central and St Pancras on the new line is less than an hour. This is a very important psychological barrier. Although many people may think that an extra five minutes on the journey matters little the ability to market Folkestone as being less than an hour from London will make a significant difference to the regeneration of the area, in which the high speed rail link has such a key part to play.

But achieving this objective is much more complicated than may, at first sight, appear to be the case.

It depends on things like the waiting time at Ashford that is needed to accommodate trains joining there from Canterbury and Margate, the need to dovetail domestic services with Eurostar and the desirability of establishing a consistent timetable so that the minutes past the hour when the trains leave is the same throughout the day.

Clearly not all these factors bear the same weight. In particular, we forcefully made the point that people travelling from Folkestone would prefer a shorter journey time to a consistent timetable. As you would expect the final timetable will not be settled for some time but I was left feeling moderately optimistic about the likely outcome.

There were other points to be raised including the provision of services to intermediate stations and, of course, fares.

I have always believed that the high speed rail link has enormous potential to be the catalyst that will help to transform Folkestone for the better. But we must get it right. I shall do all I can to make sure we do.