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Review launched into HS1 impact on regular rail services

Canterbury City Council is conducting a review into the impact of fast rail services on Kent’s network after research revealed journeys on regular trains are now slower. Rail campaigners have accused operator Southeastern of slowing down mainline services by adding additional stops in a bid to make High Speed 1 more appealing.

It followed a report by Canterbury City Council which revealed the total journey time on regular services on the north Kent line was up to 20 minutes slower since the introduction of HS1. This has prompted a critical review by the authority, which is expected to be completed in two months. Southeastern denied the accusations of slowing down trains stating that timetables were based on service specifications set by Government, outlining how many services there should be from a particular station.

Tory MP for Thanet North Roger Gale and campaigners from the Alliance of Kent Commuters said adding more stops had been detrimental to the still-popular classic service:

“The classic service time table has been adjusted to accommodate faster services. There are now more stops on the mainline service, some of which are not needed; the trains are overcrowded; and they travel very slowly. This could make HS1 more appealing, but it doesn’t serve east Kent.”

For people living in east Kent, travelling from Margate along the north Kent line through towns including Herne Bay and Whitstable to London, the high speed train does not reach speeds until Ebbsfleet or for trains travelling from Ramsgate, until Ashford. The same problem is seen in Medway where the trains fail to pick up speed until Ebbsfleet. But when commuters opt for regular trains, they are faced with longer journey times due to added stops and overcrowded carriages where classic services were reduced to make way for HS1.

The review at Canterbury City Council will look into the impact of the high speed service. Lib Dem Cllr Alex Perkins, who commissioned the review, said he was pleased with HS1, but said there needed to be research conducted into its effect on the network.

“We all know HS1 is great. What we want to do is find out what impact it has had on other services. It has been detrimental. A lot of this is anecdotal and we need to get facts and figures together, but we do know that lots of standard services are being affected. There are lots of people left standing on platforms while a high speed train goes past with just two people on it. I have experienced it myself when Jean Law, deputy leader of the council, and I found ourselves stuck on a packed platform at Faversham station and an HS1 came through with one person sitting in one of the cars – does that mean a good service? My own experience with HS1 is absolutely fantastic, but we need to find out how bad the situation is with the regular service. We’re doing this for Canterbury, but it’s quite possible this could kick off other reviews.”

Mr Gale said he would support anything which looked to help solve problems experienced by commuters in east Kent. A spokesman at Southeastern defended the operator stating that to meet its contractual obligation some trains had to stop at more stations, therefore slowing that particular service:

“Any change would need to be made by the Department for Transport (DfT) and a new service specification will be developed by the DfT for the new franchise in 2014. We appreciate that no one wants to see journey times increase but to speed up trains would require missing stations out along the route, which would not be popular with those towns. Passengers now have a choice of service and can choose to take a far quicker journey on high speed or use the Mainline services.”

kentnews 24th Jul 2011

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