New station faces an uphill struggle

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31 Aug 2011

Gradient concern over train stop at proposed site

BUILDING two new railway stations in Sittingbourne might prove to be an uphill struggle, after it was revealed the proposed site for one of them is on a slope.

Plans for a “Swale Metro” rail network, with new stations on the London main line at Bobbing, near The Meads estate, and at Murston or Bapchild, close to the Great East Hall estate,were unveiled in last week’s Gazette.

The ambitious idea – brainchild of the Kent county councillor for Swale central, Tory Mike Whiting – has attracted positive and negative comments, but could be derailed before it gets any further down the line, according to a retired train driver.

Derek Deacon, 72, who lives a short walk from the proposed Bobbing station site, near The Meads, believed trains used by Southeastern would struggle to pull out of the station in winter if the rails were icy, due to the gradient of the track.

Mr Deacon, of Balas Drive, said: “The line at that point is on a bank, so in bad weather the trains will never be able to pull away if they stop.”

In response, Mr Whiting said a feasibility study would look into physical and practical aspects, such as the lie of the land, to determine whether the proposed metro network could become a reality.

He hopes a study will take place as soon as suitable funding for it – a few thousand pounds – is secured, and confirmed he has a meeting with Network Rail, Southeastern and Kent County Council representatives in September.

He added: “A few people have been in touch to say they support the idea, which is good. There’s no real reason why this shouldn’t happen if we can get people on board with it.

“One indication I’ve been given is that a new station would cost £1.3million. That’s half a primary school, and in the long term it has the benefit of allowing the town to grow. In transport terms, the £10 to 20million it could cost is not a lot of money.”

Nurse Amanda Payne, 46, of Cinnabar Drive, on The Meads estate, welcomed the idea, saying it would benefit her 17-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son.

She said: “It would save me having to drive them to Sittingbourne every time they wanted to get the train, because they could walk to the Bobbing station. It does get quite congested round by Sittingbourne station so it might help that too. The more options people have to use public transport, the more they are going to use it.”

Factory worker Mark Williams, however, was concerned the proposal would affect residents on The Meads.

The 35-year-old, of Sonora Way, said: “There will be more traffic driving through the estate to get to the station. It’s not that far here from Kemsley or Sittingbourne stations, and how many people get on at Kemsley?

“If people don’t get on at Kemsley they’re not going to use this one. It’s a lot of money for something that’s probably going to be half-full.”

In response to the traffic concerns, Mr Whiting said: “I understand where the gentleman is coming from, but one of the reasons I quite like the site near The Meads is because if you’re coming from the A249 or Bobbing by car, you can come straight onto Staplehurst Road, there’s already a junction

“I hadn’t envisioned a large amount of traffic coming down Sonora Way to access it.”

Labour councillor Ghlin Whelan concluded it must be “silly season” after reading the proposal.

The ward member for Chalkwell, a member of Swale Joint Transport Board said: “Talk about pie in the sky at a time of austerity, when neither Kent County Council nor the ministries in Whitehall are prepared to fund even the completion of the northern relief road or agree in principle to a southern relief road.”

Suz Elvey, East Kent Gazette