Tonbridge needs better train links to Gatwick

GATE CLOSED: 70 per cent of flights into Gatwick come over Kent but the county provides just 7.4 per cent of its passengers

Tonbridge needs better train links to Gatwick

by Andy Tong | 6th February 2019

THERE have been widespread demands for improvements to the Southern rail service from Tonbridge in response to Gatwick’s expansion proposals.

According to its ‘master plan’ the airport aims to increase the numbers who use it by a third to 61million by 2032.

The Sussex hub wants to run the existing runway more intensively, and also make use of the emergency runway for smaller aircraft ‘in routine use’.

Tonbridge & Malling District Council responded to the consultation by calling for a direct train service between the town and Gatwick via Redhill.

This would improve access to the airport for people from Kent travelling from there – or working at the site.

It would also help to alleviate the decline in air quality caused by more people driving to catch their flights.

Since 2008, local rail passengers going to Gatwick have had to change at Redhill or travel up to London first.

‘This commitment does fall disappointingly short of our aspirations’

Under rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway’s [GTR] forthcoming Southern agreement there will be trains from Tonbridge to Redhill every half-hour.

Nicolas Heslop, the council’s Leader, said ‘this commitment does fall disappointingly short of our aspirations’.

 “The master plan should be a catalyst to secure infrastructure funding to directly connect the airport to West Kent by rail, to ease the overreliance upon our strategic and local road network for airport related journeys,” he said.

“Frequent and continuous rail connections from Tonbridge would prevent passengers having to change platforms at Redhill, and thus avoiding the inconvenience and delay of hauling luggage between connecting services.”

Citing the airport’s proposed £46.5million contribution to wider transport and noise mitigation measures, he also calls for ‘improved modal interchange [between different forms of transport] and connectivity at Tonbridge station’.

Local MP Tom Tugendhat wrote to Stewart Wingate, chief executive of Gatwick Airport Limited, last month.

He echoed Cllr Heslop in highlighting the imbalance affecting Kent, which ‘bears the noise impact’ of 70 per cent of flights into Gatwick while providing just 7.4 per cent of its passengers.

Mr Tugendhat said: “This is most likely due to the poor road and rail links, with the only major road to the airport from the county being the M25.

'The line has been left as an unreliable shuttle between Tonbridge and Redhill, with services frequently cancelled as trains are sacrificed for other services'

“The only realistic infrastructure improvement which could be delivered would be the improvement of services on the Tonbridge-Redhill line.”

After trains to Gatwick were stopped a decade ago, the direct service to London Victoria was discontinued last May – in what Mr Tugendhat has called ‘a gradual and managed decline’ by GTR.

“The line has been left as an unreliable shuttle between Tonbridge and Redhill, with services frequently cancelled as trains are sacrificed for other services,” he said.

“GTR’s incompetency means there are often not enough drivers available to run the trains they schedule, and on some occasions failing to book in the scheduled train services themselves.

“None of this appears to have been taken into consideration in your plan. Without significant investment in the Tonbridge-Redhill line, the growth won’t be achieved.

GTR’s Southern franchise is due to expire in September 2021, and stakeholders and commuters are demanding a new operator takes over.

Southern has also been disrupted by strike action for almost three years over GTR’s plans to run a service without any guards on its trains.

It was also heavily criticised for its handling of timetable changes across the network last May.

GTR was ordered to pay £15million to make ‘tangible improvements’ – matching the amount it has already had to pay to compensate 68,000 season ticket-holders.

'The train service on the Tonbridge to Redhill line has been going from bad to worse'

John Reynolds, chairman of the pressure group Tonbridge Line Commuters, wants Southeastern – who operate the London-to-Hastings line – to take over Southern.

He said: “The train service on the Tonbridge to Redhill line has been going from bad to worse.

“We’ve now seen widespread cancellations over the Christmas period. Apparently this is because of staff shortages and incompetent errors in rostering the crew they had left.

“There is also a strong suspicion that the train drivers were transferred to Thameslink at the Tonbridge line’s cost.”

He added: “The matter is now urgent. It is now clear that Southern regards the line as a minor backwater which can be safely ignored.

“The line should be developed and marketed as a link from Kent to Gatwick. And from the Surrey end, the line is an equally valuable route via Tonbridge for Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Maidstone, Ashford (for Eurostar) and the Kent coast.

“GTR’s approach is not good enough and responsibility for the line must be transferred to the Southeastern franchise as soon as possible.”

High hopes: High Speed for Air

A radical plan to build a £10billion high-speed rail link between Tonbridge, Gatwick and Heathrow was put forward a year ago by engineering consultants Expedition.

As revealed by the Times, the project would see trains run from Ashford through Tonbridge to Edenbridge on existing routes before switching to a new track, linking to Gatwick and Heathrow.

Described as ‘an M25 for high speed trains’, the route would connect the existing Kent HS1 line to the HS2 route at Denham, north London, serving both airports before joining the Great Western main line.

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