The process of awarding the rail franchise for the South East of England is well underway, and the new licence will be operational from the end of next year. I recently met with David Statham the Managing Director of the current operator, Southeastern trains to discuss service improvements we would like to see as part of the new franchise. Along with other Kent MPs, I was also signatory to a joint letter sent earlier in the year, to the Department for Transport, which set out our priorities for the future of local rail services.
Folkestone and east Kent has benefited greatly from the launch of the High Speed rail service in 2010. One of the consequences of this success has been a considerable increase in the numbers of passengers using the service, particularly at peak times. We need more services and longer trains to meet the current and future demand. This should include more twelve car trains running between St Pancras and Folkestone Central. The current high speed service is running at near capacity, and it requires a substantial investment in new sets of trains. I have also asked Southeastern though to look at what they can do to improve the capacity on the current service now. We also need additional rail capacity for Kent on the Charing Cross and Cannon Street services as well.
Many rail passengers travel every week for work into London, but not necessarily everyday. We should be looking at how we can use the latest smart ticketing technology so that frequent travellers can take advantage of the season ticket discount, but only pay for the number of days they use it, rather than for the whole year. This would help many local businesses who travel to London meet with clients, and commuters who have the opportunity to work from home on certain days of the week. I would also like to see investment to make a substantial upgrade of Westenhanger station as part of preparing for the development of the Otterpool Garden town. This should include making it possible for the high speed trains to run on the Channel Tunnel rail link line as far as Westenhanger, before they join the rest of the network.
The rail franchise for the south east is of course a competitive process, and there are three other companies also bidding to take over the service. These other companies have been in touch with me and I’m looking forward to meeting with them to discuss their plans for our local services should their bids be successful.
Finally, I would like to send my best wishes for all students who will receive the results of their A level results on Thursday this week. I hope that they attain the grades they have been working for, and that those who are waiting on their results before taking up offers of university places, are successful.