The concern of Tonbridge Line Commuters [TLC] comes amid ongoing issues with the running of the railways by Southeastern.
Last week the Government scrapped the competition for renewal of the franchise, which will bring further ‘prolonged misery’ for passengers.
TLC has long warned that the creaking rail system requires urgent remedial action.
The ‘garden town’ development in Capel parish, which would start a mile from the edge of Tonbridge, has heightened such fears.
It has been is included in Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s draft Local Plan for the provision of 13,500 new houses by 2036.
And the rail passengers’ campaign group is also predicting that the road network and the car parks that serve stations will not be able to cope with the additional volume of traffic.
TLC Chairman John Reynolds said: “We are extremely alarmed by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s [TWBC] proposal to build 4,000 new homes in Paddock Wood and 2,800 in Tudeley.
“The Kent Route Study has already stated that capacity on the railway is expected to become a serious issue by 2024.
He added: “These additional homes – on top of additional housing projects down the line as far as Ashford – will make matters worse.”
‘Existing passengers – paying £4,364 a year – may not even be able to board some of the trains’
“Many of these new residents will use the B2017 [from Paddock Wood] to reach Tonbridge – both the station and the town centre – on tortuous roads which already suffer serious congestion during peak hours and often during the middle of the day as well.
“The station car parks at Paddock Wood and Tonbridge have very limited capacity; there is already a waiting list for new parking permits to be issued.
“The additional passengers will have to use already overcrowded trains and existing passengers from Paddock Wood, let alone Tonbridge and Hildenborough, will have difficulty finding a seat for the expensive journey – currently £4,364 per year from Tonbridge – and may even not be able to board some of the trains.
“We urge TWBC to think again and not to push through these plans at least until concerns around current and future transport capacity have been addressed.”
Existing problems include the need for extra services to increase capacity, faster journey times and replacement of old and unreliable stock.
Southeastern’s tenure was due to expire on June 22 but Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling postponed it ‘while we make a decision on the competition’.
The Department for Transport [DfT] negotiated an extension up to November 10 with Govia, which owns Southeastern, with an option to stay on until April 1, 2020.
That get-out clause has now been activated and TLC’s Kingsley Jarrett said: “Not to be confused with an April Fools joke, this extension is yet another failure by the Department of Transport.”
He explained: “This extension is supposedly to allow for the outcomes of the Williams Rail Review to be implemented, with the final report expected in the autumn.
“However, this only results in a six to seven-month period to restart the process and hand over to the new operator – and that is assuming that the model and process remains relatively unchanged.
‘Southeastern passengers will have to suffer prolonged misery on ageing – and increasingly unreliable – rolling stock’
“It seems inevitable therefore that yet another Direct Award will be granted or that the Department for Transport takes over as an Operator of Last Resort.”
A Direct Award means a franchise is granted directly to the incumbent operator rather than through a tendering process.
According to Mr Reynolds, the decision to end the franchise bidding means ‘long overdue improvements will inevitably be put back, resulting in Southeastern passengers having to suffer prolonged misery on ageing – and increasingly unreliable – rolling stock.
“And proposed housing developments further down the line will result in trains becoming more overcrowded with no hope of respite for Tonbridge area passengers.
“And there remains the threat of extra Orpington stops on peak hour trains from 2022.
“That would mean more overcrowding – and possibly passengers for Tonbridge and beyond not even being able to board trains at Waterloo East or London Bridge.”