A railway line that closed to passengers after cuts in the 1960s has been given £63 million to partly reopen with a new passenger station also planned.
The line is currently freight-only and branches off past Gravesend towards the Hoo Peninsula. An agreement this week between Medway Council and Homes England has signed off a £63 million award from the Housing Infrastructure Fund which will provide services for 12,000 new homes.
Trains which currently run from London via Dartford and terminate at Gravesend could extend to a new terminus located at a new station on Sharnal Street near the site of a former station which closed in 1961. A shuttle service to Strood has also been mooted.
The press release is of course very positive and some media outlets report it word-for-word including claims of a High Speed station (!).
There are however more than a few obstacles.
Since closing to passengers, the line remains in use for freight traffic but is not electrified and only single track. Existing Southeastern passenger stock cannot simply be sent down the line. If they hope for through services to London – as Medway Council have stated – it will need third rail electrification and that is extremely difficult to gain approval for. Safety is often given as a major reason – though in some places that means old diesel trains operating pumping out pollutants. Not exactly great for people breathing that in.
Will Network Rail and rail safety organisations finally overcome their own opposition and allow a short stretch of third rail electrification?
Or will we see little more than a branch line service run towards Strood using old diesels?
One other alternative is an entirely new hybrid fleet for Southeastern. I don’t think that’s happening soon and isn’t very efficient. Every train dragging a diesel engine on electric running is heavy and wasteful.
Inevitably some are moaning and claiming everyone will work from home from now on so cancel it. Really? I doubt the majority of people will be working from home five days a week in a decade’s time. Sure, in the short term working practices have changed and some of that will feed through to the mid and long term but fundamentally a need and demand for services will remain.
Many employees will still need to visit the office, clients and there is of course leisure traffic. Bosses will want to keep tabs on staff. For others getting to the local shop or industrial estate will be needed for work or leisure, and 12,000 new homes would mean a hell of a lot of cars heading into overcrowded and congested Medway with no rail service – even with some road upgrades.