Council slams ‘completely unacceptable’ delay to rail service linking Maidstone and central London

The full introduction of new rail services from Maidstone into central London has been delayed by up to a year, the Whitehall spending watchdog has said.

A metro-style timetable linking the county town to the capital was scheduled to be in place by the end of next year, but the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed this has now been pushed back until December 2019.

The Thameslink services were set to run via London Bridge, Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras and on to Cambridge with journey times to London Bridge expected tp be between 53 and 55 minutes, running half-hourly all day, Monday to Saturdays.

Most of the trains would terminate at Maidstone East ensuring passengers starting their journey to the city would be assured of a seat.

However, the delay was announced this week after the Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail failed to make adequate arrangements to manage the launch of the new services, the NAO said, with Maidstone Borough Council leader Fran Wilson left furious.

“This is extremely disappointing news and I will be lobbying this issue on behalf of our residents and businesses,” she said.

“Despite being the county town of Kent we appear to be the last town on the train service list.

“I am certain everyone in the borough will join me in saying this is completely unacceptable.”

The DfT approved a proposal it had requested from Govia Thameslink Railway - which operates trains on the affected routes - to increase services more gradually in order to “manage the risks of each service change”, the report stated.

There has been a £474 million increase in the total budget for Network Rail’s infrastructure works to £5.5 billion as part of the £7 billion Thameslink programme, according to the watchdog.

A DfT spokeswoman said: “We welcome the NAO’s findings that the Thameslink programme will deliver significant benefits for passengers and supports the recent decision to gradually introduce new services to protect passengers from disruption.”

Chris Gibb, chairman of the Thameslink Programme Industry Readiness Board, said: “By phasing the introduction of the new timetable in this way, we have front-loaded the benefits for passengers and then spread further changes in such a way that they can be more reliably introduced.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “The Thameslink Programme is transforming north-south travel through London to provide more frequent, more reliable journeys to new destinations for passengers and upgraded stations including the landmark, entirely redeveloped London Bridge.”

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