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Clark on high-speed rail fares

2010-04-24

I’m a South Eastern rail customer on the Hastings–London line, so rail fare hikes in the south-east affect me. I’m also concerned about them politically – if the government wants to convince us to all stop using our polluting cars and switch over to rail travel, the Government needs to make it cheaper and more convenient to do so.

But Greg Clark, Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, is wrong about rail fares:

As my hon. Friend eloquently said, we face fare increases well above inflation. The increase is 10 per cent. in Tunbridge Wells this year, following one of 7.9 per cent. the previous year. We can look forward to increases for a further two years, all because the Government, in the tendering document, required Southeastern customers to pay for the costs of the channel tunnel rail link. On the Hastings line, from Sevenoaks right down to Hastings, none of our constituents would benefit from the high-speed line. It is fantastic that it is going ahead, and those who can benefit from it clearly have cause for celebration, but no one in Tunbridge Wells, High Brooms, Tonbridge or any of the stations used by my constituents will benefit. Indeed, we actively disbenefit in the following way.

Journey times from Ashford, which now last 83 minutes on average, will fall to 36 minutes. In so far as there is competition between our towns, Ashford will be more attractive in commuting terms than Tunbridge Wells. We think we have manifest charms that might make up for that, and we are confident that we can hold our own, but nevertheless it is galling for my constituents that they will have no reduction in journey time, while paying the same or more than commuters in Ashford.

First of all: none of Greg Clark’s constituents are going to benefit from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link? How about if they use Eurostar? Reduced journey times from London to Paris are pretty useful and benefit anyone who can get to London reasonably easily. And there is at least a possible benefit for commuters in Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and down the line to Hastings: as Eurostar trains are no longer using the track from Tonbridge to London, that potentially means more capacity for commuter trains.

It is disappointing for those of us who live on the Hastings line to not be able to take advantage of high-speed London trains and also – as was once suggested – Tonbridge becoming a Eurostar station. “Tonbridge International” and a high-speed link to Paris, Lille and Brussels would have rid the area of any lingering provincialism.

Clark is wrong about how Tunbridge Wells commuters have no reduction in journey time “while paying the same or more than commuters in Ashford”. Ashford commuters who want to use the high-speed service pay a supplementary charge of £4.50 (single), £8.20 (return) or £4.40 (offpeak return) – as do high-speed commuters in Canterbury, Dover, Folkstone and Ramsgate. Ebsfleet travellers also pay a supplementary charge, although it is lower than those from the other stations.

An Anytime Day Return from Tunbridge Wells to London costs £27.80. An Anytime Day Return from Ashford to London (Waterloo East or Charing Cross, not high-speed to St. Pancras) costs £41.30. Add another £8.20 on top of that for high-speed for a whopping £49.50. This is hardly Tunbridge Wells commuters “paying the same or more than commuters in Ashford”!

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