Town may be on track for two new stations

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24 Aug 2011
Councillor wants the train to take the strain off the roads

TWO new railway stations on the edge of Sittingbourne are part of ambitious multi-million pound plans to persuade people to ditch their cars and turn to trains.

Bobbing and either Murston or Bapchild have been identified as possible new stops on the existing rail network.

They would form part of a Swale Metro service, with halfhourly trains running from Newington and Teynham, via Sittingbourne, up to Sheerness and back.

The proposals are the brainchild of Swale Central county councillor Mike Whiting, who said something must be done to solve the town’s transport problems.

He said: “It is likely the road network in Swale, particularly the local network in and around Sittingbourne, will clog up over the next 20 to 30 years.

“Realistically, we don’t have the space for a tram or fast-track bus system, and little or no room to increase the capacity of existing roads.

“We have a second infrastructure, the railway, which is underused. The lines run through existing areas of housing, employment and our town centres and could be developed with two new stations to link areas where further expansion is planned, and reduce the impact of those expansions on the road network.”

Councillor Whiting, who has already held a meeting with Network Rail about the scheme, singled out The Meads at Bobbing, new housing at Great East Hall and planned development at Stones Farm, Bapchild, as places that are a lengthy walk from a railway station.

A stumbling block could be funding the proposals, which it has been estimated could cost anything between £10 million and £20 million.

However, Councillor Whiting said that would represent good value.

He added: “To put that into perspective, the new 1.4km stretch of the Sittingbourne Northern Relief Road to be opened later this year, has cost around £35 million.”

The idea has the backing of Gordon Henderson, the MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, who said he thought opening up the railways to more people was worth pursuing.

“It could help the young, old and those that do not drive, many of who sometimes feel trapped, ” he added. “We should always look to maximise the use of our railways and reduce traffic on the roads. That it why I have written to the Secretary of State supporting the principle of the scheme.”

Timing is of the essence, said Councillor Whiting, with a planning blueprint for the borough currently being drawn up and the new rail franchise up for grabs in 2014.

“If we miss the opportunity to have the principle of the scheme to make better use of the railways included in Swale’s development plans, and the Government’s rail franchise, then we probably won’t get another chance for another 20 years,” he said.

“By having the scheme embedded in these plans we will be better placed to access funding.”

Stephen Waite, East Kent Gazette