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Railwatch 073 - October 1997

The Euro Gateway opportunity

The new international station at Ashford, has now been up and running since January 1996 and has a regular service of up to eight Eurostar trains a day between Ashford and Paris and five to Brussels, a few of which also call at Calais Frethun. Paris is reached in two hours, Brussels two hours 15 minutes and Lille a mere one hour.

That there is an international station at Ashford at all is largely due to the efforts of RDS for as recently as February 1992 there was talk of building a park and ride facility on a bypass high-speed line on the outskirts of town.

But strong support from the local authorities and MPs ensured that the present facility would proceed, although on a less ambitious scale than originally planned, and, more importantly, that the new high-speed line will eventually serve the new station.

Ashford is already a gateway to Europe and will increasingly become a magnet for car-borne travellers. But it should be made user friendly for pedestrians and bus users. The present international station is too biased towards road traffic. While taxis and cars can pick up and set down right by the international concourse, pedestrians and bus users have to make a lengthy detour around the site.

Five rail routes radiate from Ashford but from two directions at least, access by rail is marked by inconvenience, delay and squalor with clapped-out diesel and electric multiple units and rundown track and signalling. Even the improvements to track and signalling undertaken for Eurostar are not perceived as improvements by users of other rail services.

The opportunities

The single-track Ashford-Hastings line should be electrified and double-tracked, to mirror the massive road improvements planned for the M27. It would costs a fraction of the price and allow through trains from Brighton, Bournemouth and the West Country. It could also allow for dual-voltage trains, for instance, from Bournemouth to northern France.

A tram system, similar to the Medway system, could also be developed for Thanet and linked to Ashford. Imagine boarding a tram at Ashford station  - maybe with your cycle - for Canterbury. The service could stop frequently in town and then accelerate out of Ashford using the existing rail line.

On the approach to Canterbury, the tram could resume street running, go though the hi-tech industrial estate and then on to East station. Rail connections would be available to Dover and Faversham. A light rail sysytem could be based on the closed line from Whitstable, providing a high quality journey to the university and linking Canterbury's East and West stations with street running.

These proposals would be cost-effective  - a fraction of the money spent on road improvements for the Channel Tunnel - and would benefit residents of North Kent (who have been ignored by the planners), those on the South Coast and on the Isle of Thanet.

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