We strongly support the ambition to increase rail use, both for passenger and freight traffic, the plans to improve integration with other forms of transport and with EU rail services, and the commitment to increasing the network’s sustainability.
We believe, however, that in the light of KCC’s climate emergency declaration the strategy is not ambitious enough on sustainability. We believe KCC should be considering electric shuttle-bus services to and from stations at peak times to obviate the need for expanded car parks and offering fully integrated ticketing with bus and ferry services. In particular, we believe KCC must work with bus service providers to ensure that the new Thanet Parkway station (the need for which we still question) is properly served by public transport. At present most travellers will have little choice but to travel there by car – a very poor outcome for an Authority with clear climate change commitments.
We welcome the proposals to introduce more flexible season ticketing in response to increased home-working, but believe that substantially more work also needs to be done with South Eastern to find ways to bring down peak-time fares. Peak-time travel is often the only option for lower-paid workers with fixed working hours, but the current hugely expensive peak fare regime (under which travel from Thanet to London at peak time costs more than travel from Thanet to Glasgow off-peak) denies this to all but the best paid (whose working hours are often more flexible, ironically.) For people in poorer areas like Thanet, access to jobs further afield is a lifeline, but the present fare scales directly encourage workers to get into their cars, as they can travel substantially more cheaply by road, thereby clogging up our roads and militating against KCC’s efforts to combat climate change.
We strongly support increased flexibility in peak-time and season ticket options, ‘shoulder peak’ fares and expanded super-off-peak provision and a Smartcard scheme to facilitate integrated bus/ train travel.
We believe funding options to enable peak-time fares to be reduced considerably (- even if only for certain groups, such as lower-waged or vulnerable travellers -) must be fully explored. Currently, peak-time fares are excessive and militate against both the regeneration of poorer areas like Thanet and the achievement of KCC’s climate change ambitions.
We would argue that clearer, simpler, ticketing options and improved communication to passengers on how to ensure they get best value for money with their ticket purchases are essential if the ambition to increase rail travel and reduce road travel is to be realised.
Rail Infrastructure Enhancement:
We support power enhancements for all lines linking with HS1. We continue to believe that the money spent on Thanet Parkway Station would have been much better spent on improvements to lines and power enhancements to support faster, smoother travel and fewer breakdowns across the network. (We accept that the bulk of this is LEP money but believe KCC and others should have lobbied the LEP more vigorously to make more effective use of the funds on offer to improve existing stations and services rather than create an unstaffed eighth station in Thanet on greenfield land.) We are concerned that smaller stations may suffer from the introduction of new stations such as Parkway and believe this would be a retrograde development that would run contrary to KCC’s climate and community commitments.
Rolling Stock Improvements:
We believe upgrading and modernisation of the available rolling stock is necessary to ensure we have a service that passengers want to use, and the capability to increase the volume of freight that travels by rail rather than by road.
We strongly support increased service capacity on all lines, a faster service from Ramsgate via Herne Bay with better links to the Dover Service and more frequent services to minor stations between Faversham and Dover. We retain serious doubts about the value to Thanet of the new Parkway Station, but agree that, in order to justify its massive cost both financially and environmentally, it must be made a mandatory stop for all High Speed and Mainline services.
Community Rail Partnerships:
We are delighted to see the Strategy’s commitment to expanding Community Rail Partnerships, and are particularly pleased that our own area of Thanet is benefiting from a new partnership. We hope to see more information about this shortly. We would stress the importance of clear, simple communication about these partnerships and their work to passengers and the general public, and of integrating these with other travel, housing and regeneration information in each local area.
Rail Freight Provision:
We strongly support the proposals for better utilisation of existing rail freight paths in the short term and improvements to Mainline routes in the longer term to facilitate an increase in the percentage of freight travelling by rail in Kent.
With the expected delays on Kent roads post-Brexit caused by our reliance on road freight, anything that can be done in the very short term to increase the attractiveness to logistics companies of a move from road to rail would be hugely welcome to Kent communities in terms of their overall quality of life and the quality of the air they breathe.
International Rail Services:
We strongly support the restoration of Eurostar services to Ashford and Ebbsfleet as soon as conditions permit and the proposed increases in services between Kent and Lille, Brussels and Amsterdam. Once again, in order to meet our climate commitments we must make rail travel to mainland Europe as easy, cheap and attractive as possible in order for it to complete with air services. We believe Eurostar offers an excellent service and would urge KCC, ABC and SELEP to develop a more dynamic communications strategy to promote it.