Thursday, 27 June 2013

Believe in a better DEAL

"HS extensions at peak have been a fantastic success story, and the government has to be honest about that." James Conway, Department for Transport

"Indicators are that it's a phenomenal success" Paul Crick, Kent County Council
Three years ago this week I started working in London after being made redundant and unable to find a suitable job in Kent. At the time the commute by rail was difficult and lonely from DEAL up to Ashford where I could then get onto a quicker and more reliable high-speed (HS) service. The morning commute seemed bearable, but the many nights I spent waiting for a connecting mainline service to DEAL from Dover Priory which inferably would be cancelled or severely delayed became sole destroying.

One afternoon in December 2010 I was sitting at my desk when a colleague shouted over "hey you live in Kent... it's snowing! you better leave as Southeastern are notorious in the snow". Naively I thought he was joking so it was quite a shock when I left work at 6pm and entered St Pancras to see chaos and scenes reminiscent of people fleeing for their lives in a disaster movie. I was lucky to squeeze onto one of the last HS services departing from St Pancras but when I arrived at Dover Priory I was advised there would be no mainline services to DEAL.

As I stood on the platform at Dover Priory wondering how I would get home I watched the now empty HS train depart and carry on to its depot via DEAL. Three Southeastern staff were chatting to themselves nearby and I shouted over "hey, they should make those trains stop at DEAL" ... the response was "don't be stupid no one would use it".

The following day I started researching and found out there was a campaign group called Trains4Deal but it didn't seem to be getting much notice so I started my own blog, a twitter account and started annoying some important people. But the thing that really surprised me was the fact that DEAL had one of the lowest ratios of jobs per working population in Kent which prompted the question; why wouldn't people use a HS train service for DEAL?

Fast forward three years and my daily commute from DEAL to St Pancras via the Southeastern HS service is quicker, easier, more reliable and now shared with hundreds of other Dealites. Even Southeastern staff seem genuinely supportive of the service. But I am still often taken aback by the hundreds of visitors that alight at DEAL on a Friday evening.

Change is often subtle and unapparent without reflection but I personally believe DEAL has benefitted enormously from the HS service which has brought confidence and purpose to the town and its inhabitants. But we need off peak and weekend services.

Many of us were anticipating a full HS service for DEAL & Sandwich to commence next year but the Government franchising fiasco has put this aspiration on hold for potentially many years. The recent Rail Summit attended by Trains4Deal seems to indicate gridlock in the process.

We need to pile on the pressure once again for more HS services and I would urge everyone to not only send comments to Trains4Deal but also email the following people directly. Thank you.

James Conway (Department for Transport)

Paul Crick (KCC Director for Planning and Environment)

Charlie Elphicke (MP for Deal)