Michael has demanded the Transport Secretary’s assurance that the new Thameslink fast service will be delivered in full, following fresh fears that the future express service would be delayed “indefinitely”.
The new link – to run from Maidstone East through Swanley and Otford to the City – was set to begin at the end of this year. But the start date was postponed until at least December 2019.
Worse still, the Sevenoaks MP discovered that the tendering documents for the new South East franchise operator asked for a cost analysis of the “indefinite” delay of the service.
He warned that this spelled bad news for families and businesses in his constituency and requested an immediate meeting with the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, which was granted.
Following the meeting, Michael said: “The Transport Secretary has committed to investigating why this paragraph was included in the Invitation to Tender. He has also undertaken to provide further reassurance that the fast service will commence in December 2019 and will not be further postponed.”
Michael will meet Transport Secretary Chris Grayling next Tuesday after expressing fresh doubts over the deliverability of the delayed Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East yesterday morning.
During an interview on BBC Radio Kent, the Sevenoaks MP revealed he was “horrified” to learn that the Invitation to Tender document for the new South Eastern rail franchise outlines a hypothetical plan to delay the service “indefinitely”.
He said: “I’m now seriously beginning to wonder if this service will ever be delivered”.
The fast service was due to start in December 2018, but has been delayed until 2019 to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, according to the government.
Michael: “This is bad news for people in Maidstone East, but this also affects Otford and Swanley, because families, businesses, everyone has been looking forward to these regular express services to London for a long time.
My constituents in Sevenoaks have fast services to London through Southeastern. The Thameslink trains from Maidstone East would balance the level of service in my constituency: that’s what we were promised, and that’s what we’re going to insist on.”
The Sevenoaks MP went on to say that while rail timetabling is “complicated”, local stakeholders “should at least insist that we have an hourly service, which would help reduce some of the peak capacity issues”.
Michael has lead the campaign to deliver the new Thameslink fast service in Kent. He recently said the Transport Secretary’s decision to postpone the service betrays Kent commuters.
Michael has today (12) organised a letter to the new Rail Minister signalling concerns about the postponed new Thameslink fast service, which has been signed by four other Kent MPs also affected by the delays.
Following his representations to Govia Thameslink Railway about his alternative phased proposals earlier in the week, the Sevenoaks MP took the opportunity to put the issue on the new Rail Minister’s radar. It is the first time the local MP has took charge of a county-wide campaign since returning to the backbenches in November last year.
The letter reads: “Many families and businesses have made long-term plans on the basis of this service starting in 2018. Our constituents are therefore concerned that the services could be postponed further still, beyond 2019.
We are extremely disappointed at this situation, which has been taken without consultation, and would appreciate your time to discuss alternative phased proposals as soon as possible.
It is vital that the new plans avoid punishing businesses and commuters in our constituencies who have anticipated and planned for the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”
Click here to read the letter in full: Page 1 Page 2
Michael has expressed his “severe disappointment” at the “betrayal of Kent commuters” in a letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling today.
The letter was sent in response to a letter Michael received from the Transport Secretary, explaining why the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London had been postponed until at least December 2019.
Having earlier contacted Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and the Rail Minister about the matter, Michael had wanted a comprehensive explanation from the Transport Secretary. Instead, the reply failed to address two of his key concerns: why a consultation had not been launched and why a similar fast service will be delivered on-time in Sussex.
“Govia’s decision is a betrayal of Kent commuters and my constituents”, the MP said.
“This news means that there will have been a delay of over a year and a half from the originally-planned completion date.”
The Sevenoaks MP has called for an urgent meeting with the Transport Secretary and GTR to consider “an alternative schedule that avoids punishing Kent’s commuters.”