Network Rail has published the final version of the Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) for Kent, which sets out a 30-year vision to create a bigger and better railway to serve Kent, parts of East Sussex and south London.
Longer and faster trains, more journey options into London, better access to stations and improved reliability are all recommended outputs to meet future passenger needs.
Dave Ward, Network Rail’s route director for Kent, said: “Owing to the high number of trains already running across Kent and East Sussex, there are very few options to run additional services into the capital. However, there are opportunities to run longer trains across these routes which will result in extra seats and reduced congestion for passengers. Kent will become the best connected region in the country to London stations, with services to seven out of the 11 main stations.
“There is no doubt we face many challenges in order to enhance the railway in the coming years, but through a robust strategy, we aim to improve journeys in one way or another for as many people as possible.”
The RUS identifies meeting rising demand as a key challenge for the railway in Kent. Based on 2008 figures, total passenger demand is forecast to grow faster than elsewhere on the rail network, with 30% more passengers by 2022. The launch of Southeastern’s high speed service between Kent and London St Pancras in December 2009 has already provided some much needed extra capacity, reduced journey times considerably and brings the most significant opportunities to further enhance the region’s railway.
Another major scheme set to reshape rail travel through Kent to the capital is the Thameslink programme. This project includes substantial rebuilding and re-modelling of Blackfriars and London Bridge stations, providing more journey options, as well as making provision for up to 24 trains per hour through London, benefiting hundreds of thousands of rail passengers daily.
Trains operating from the Tonbridge area into Cannon Street are expected to be incorporated into the Thameslink network, calling at London Bridge and onwards to Blackfriars, Farringdon, St Pancras International and further north. It is also likely that services operating on the Maidstone East line will operate through the Thameslink network via Bromley South, again providing new journey opportunities for passengers as well as providing higher capacity trains.
The Thameslink programme will also trigger extensive timetable improvements across much of Kent, Sussex and south London in order to make the best use of limited capacity.
The Kent RUS was published as a draft for consultation in April 2009 and received some 86 formal responses from stakeholders which have been extremely valuable. Significant feedback was received, for example, regarding the envisaged withdrawal of direct services between Hastings and London Cannon Street and in response the RUS appraises options for those likely to be impacted. As a result, the RUS recommends that all trains on the Hastings line to London Charing Cross call at London Bridge for access to the City and at peak times are also formed of slow and fast portions between Hastings and Tunbridge Wells in order to offer reduced journey times.
The Kent RUS has been led by Network Rail, but developed by the whole industry. It analyses current demands and predicts future trends in order to make recommendations for improving the railway for as many people as possible. Passenger and freight train operating companies, the Department for Transport and travel watchdog, Passenger Focus, have all been involved in the preparation of this document.
In addition to capacity improvement schemes, the RUS also makes recommendations to improve Kent’s stations. While a number have already been identified for improvements under the government’s national stations improvement programme and Access for All schemes, the RUS also outlines plans to provide more car parking spaces at stations across the county.
Other areas examined in the RUS include increased line speeds, improved connectivity across the region, an allowance for the predicted increase in freight traffic and enhancements to the infrastructure to improve reliability.