I’ve always been a great fan of rail travel so I was particularly pleased on Monday morning when Folkestone became a part of the High Speed rail revolution, with the start of the first of the preview services being run by Southeastern trains. The full service will start in December, but for the next few months we will have the benefit of the trains at peak times.
By my watch, the service made it into London St Pancras station from Folkestone Central in 52 minutes, and the full train suggested that this is going to be popular. For regular travellers who use the service this will greatly reduce the amount of time they spend on their journey to London and back. This much improved journey time also has the potential to attract new visitors and new business to the area. With the prospect of a high speed rail service direct into Stratford in East London, it also puts us in a fantastic position to benefit from the Olympic Games in 2012.
We are fortunate that because of the investment in the Eurostar high speed line from London to the Channel Tunnel that this domestic service has now become available, and this could be one of the greatest economic benefits we have received since the opening of the Tunnel. There is much talk about the prospect of a national high speed rail network with trains running up to Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, and in principle I support this idea. This could mean, for example, that in the future we could get a train from Folkestone to Manchester in around two hours.
Our existing road and rail networks are straining at the seams, meaning that journeys are frequently delayed and longer than they need to be. This is not only frustrating, but costly to businesses and individuals when many hours of work are lost in congestion. We feel that particularly when Operation Stack is in force, but in truth we see evidence of it across Kent throughout the year. I have previously written that our lack of good quality infrastructure puts Britain at a competitive disadvantage with other European countries, and the relative weakness of our economy means that this gap is damaging to future jobs and prosperity. The Government needs to take the lead in planning for the infrastructure we need now and in the future, and also working with the private sector to help finance these projects. Decisions such as these have been delayed for far too long.
Damian is pictured with the first High Speed train to arrive from Folkestone at St Pancras station, and from left to right, Cllr Bernard Butcher – Chairman of Dover District Council, Cllr Janet Andrews – Mayor of Folkestone, Cllr Susan Carey – Chairman of Shepway District Council and Cllr Carole Waters – Cabinet Member for Sport and Culture, Shepway District Council.
You can also find out more about the High Speed Rail service run by South Eastern trains at http://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/index.php/cms/pages/view/322