Yes, it is time to consider a new train station for Canterbury

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Southeastern Trains operate to and from Canterbury

The prospect of a new railway station for the city has raised its head again.

It’s bound to be controversial, primarily because the proposed location is immediately adjacent to Hambrook Marshes, which is both an important area for wildlife right next to the city centre and a floodplain which helps to prevent the Stour flooding the city centre.

So is it worth developing the option for an improvement to rail services from Canterbury?

Certainly our MP seems to think so, without prejudging the final balance of the decision. Because there definitely is a balance to be struck between some crucial potential benefits and some serious risks.

The most obvious upside is to create a passenger interchange between the East and West rail lines, which will help those on the current east line who want to travel anywhere via Ashford.

The new “Canterbury Parkway station would also radically change passenger travel routes, moving car journeys out of the city centre with a particularly positive impact on the St Dunstan’s area.

It could have more car parking, if we believe that people will still own cars in the ten or twenty years’ time it will take to develop the station, and a properly designed bus interchange which could replace the existing city bus station.

Which, incidentally, calls into question yet again the wisdom of building a new Station Road West multi-storey car park – if it was to cost £35 million to develop the new Parkway station, which is roughly what seems to be suggested, shouldn’t the council hold its fire and perhaps use its borrowed £9 million to fund the car park there?

In terms of benefits, the city would get a modern gateway station for visitors, rather than the somewhat decrepit stations we now enjoy.

For the rail companies, much of the development funding would come from the release of the land around the existing stations for housing and commercial use, while the operating costs of a single new station are obviously going to be lower than two crumbling ones.

So far so good. But what about the ecological impact? The site sits right on the eastern edge of Hambrook Marsh, not far from Toddler’s (sic) Cove with the High School and playing fields to the north and the Stour to the south.

Crucially, though, the land between the railways and Toddler’s Cove is farmland, with only the allotments and parkland between the site and Rheims Way, meaning it would be possible to put the bulk of the station on land which is not part of the floodplain.

It also means – at least at first glance – that it might be relatively simple to secure both the site for the station and the road access without impacting at all on the marshes or the wildlife there. In comparison, the difficulties involved in building the proposed eastern by-pass from the A2 to the A28 are much more significant, yet that is being actively considered.

Of course some people will be disadvantaged, primarily on the existing farm and many of the holders of allotments in the southern section.

The latter we ought to be able to find a nearby alternative for. But compare those to the vast numbers of people, City residents and passengers alike, who would benefit and you can at least see the attraction of looking seriously at the idea.

There are other issues to be worked through of course. The land involved seems to be largely owned by the city council, and while no doubt there would be some compulsory acquisitions required to piece together this into a viable plot, that also means there is the potential for some money to be made, either through leasing to Network Rail or by sale to them.

Taken together, these issues seem to me to point to a sound basis for a feasibility study. Many things can be found at such an early stage which scupper any development, of course, but the rational action would appear to be in favour of getting some of the detailed preliminary work done so a decision can be made while there is still chance to halt the Station Road West car park, among other things. Or is forward thinking like that too much to ask of our council?

Apropos of which, I notice that one of our readers suggested in a recent below the line comment that “it is easy to criticise, but less easy … to put forward solutions”.

I hope that regular readers will have seen that while I am highly critical of many aspects of how things get done in this district, the purpose of pointing those issues out is a step towards resolution.

For what it’s worth, I believe that solutions need to be much more consensual and better developed than you can hope for from a weekly column. But there is too much blinkered thinking and denial going on not to make it important to point out the things that we’re getting wrong. I’ll continue to do that.

9 COMMENTS

  1. The late Arthur Percival and a small group of railway enthusiasts have long argued for the restoration of the Harbledown link which would be relatively quick and cheap..

    It was constructed in the early part of the last century and enabled trains from various London military establishments to fork left as it were at Harbledown and then through Canterbury W and onto Port Richborough.

    It was dismantled after the second world war I believe but the track bed is still relatively intact. .

    The three main advantages of such a simple addition to the local rail network would be

    1 Disaster contingency planning -eg if the Margate to Faversham line was blocked

    2 It would open up all sorts of possibilities for a more flexible local service network

    3 It would reduce the need for the dreaded rail replacement service.during maintenance works.

    Dave Wilson makes a very persuasive case for something gold standard that would really catapult rail services in Canterbury into the 21st century. Goodness knows what our visitors make of the the two stations we have at present which despite their individual charm were pout of date 50 years ago..The addition of a multistorey car park which conceptually has been out of date since 1980 completely defies belief.

    So yes lets please crack on the a feasibility study for the full Parkway and use the restoration of the short Harbledown link as a first stage pilot.

  2. How about closing Canterbury West and re-routing that line to go via an expanded Canterbury East, following the same route as the existing line through Canterbury East until it’s south-east of Canterbury then cutting across the countryside to rejoin the existing line beyond Sturry. That would give us a single station for all routes and do away with the level crossings that blight Canterbury traffic. The route of the current Canterbury West line could become a tramway or guided busway from Sturry and Broad Oak into Canterbury.

  3. Here we go again then!
    Over the past 40 years or, this idea has re-surfaced a couple of times, only to sink without trace when the actual costs (financial and environmental) are given more than a cursory rummage.

    Here’s a Q nobody seems to to have raised, let alone answered. Just how many passengers are actually inconvenienced by the fact that Canterbury currently has two railway stations? Do many (any?) of them need to hop and jump from the Ashford-Ramsgate line on to the Faversham-Dover line and find that such a whim is problematic, due to a c.15 minute walk? I’d wager that very few passengers, if any, plan their journeys in such a haphazard way.
    Put another way. If you want to go to London, you pick your destination terminus and select the East or West station accordingly. Similarly, if you’re in London, wanting to visit Canterbury, you’ve already got the choice of 9 major stations which’ll get you to either of Canterbury’s stations, both of which are within 10 minutes’ easy walk to the city centre. Very few towns/cities in the Home Counties are as well served as Cnaterbury is.
    In summary, we’ve already got a very good set of options, which serves probably 99% of passengers very well. That’s not to say there couldn’t be improvement but a “parkway” station is a total turkey.
    Creating, at vast cost, a combined railway station will do nothing to reduce the impact of the level crossings, will have less attractive pedestrian access options and will require a huge amount of very expensive and intrusive infrastructure changes/additions to get buses, cars, taxis etc in and out.

    Touching on this last point. Various reports I’ve read allude to the fact that the Hambrook area is somehow scrap land, just itching to be concreted over. Really? Well folks, the reality is that you’ll wave a cheery ta ta to Toddlers’ Cove park, Whitehall Road allotments, part of the Hambrook Nature Reserve and farmland to the west of the viaduct. All this before the “need” for multi-lane vehicle access from both directions of the A2 and A28 is allowed for and spur roads are designed into the project. Parkway stations are so called (the clue’s in the name) for a very good reason. Small stations, huge car parks and lots of in/out access routes – Lovely.

    Canterbury Parkway Station is and always was, as harebrained a scheme as it’s possible to imagine. It makes CCC’s multi-storey car park look like a well thought out and popular idea!

  4. In addition from what I have read the Victoria Recreation Ground, a well used green open public space, would also be under threat. So a good time to remind everyone that this space is protected by a 100 year old covenant.

  5. Just to confirm that the Harbledown Link that I advocate is an exceedingly modest proposal..

    It would involve the the laying of about 300 yards of rail onto a track bed that is already in situ..

    The track was taken up in 1947 and the bed left intact.

    In 1953 when the railway at Herne Bay was cut off because of flooding the Harbledown link track was relaid virtually overnight and proved invaluable to maintaining access to N Kent from Thanet and vice versa.

    So no environmental disruption with this proposal.

    It wouldn’t be a stopping point therefore no station / interchange platforms /car parks /bus stops etcetc and no extra time delays..

    It is just a short piece of extra line which would be invaluable in providing a lot more flexibility of service as well as being an invaluable asset in the event of a disaster elsewhere..

    Like everything else it needs a proper cost benefit analysis but it is a really exceedingly cheap scheme.

    I very much hope that sight is not lost of this idea within all the legitimate debate about the Parkway station and the Canterbury Chord both of which are in the Network rail consultation.

    I don’t want to embarrass anyone but I was talking to someone in the rail industry recently who is very familiar with the above two projects but even they were unaware of this potential short link at Harbledown.

  6. The whole area of toddlers and the nature reserve would be devastated. For what? We have two perfectly good stations already. The toad systems and require parking would eat up the green land around that part of the city. These spaces are useful because of the peace and natural resources they provide. They are immensely important though they appear to some as simply unused space.

  7. Taking David Kemsley’s point one stage further.

    Yes, the spur line was originally laid to facilitate troop/munition movements and was also a “just in case” alternative to the Folkestone to Dover line, which was vulnerable to German shelling. This spur line was referred to, I believe, as Canterbury B Junction. In addition to assisting the war effort, the spur line was invaluable in the early 1950s when there was a huge amount of damage to the Faversham to Thanet line due to coastal flooding. Even the old Crab and Winkle line was taken out of mothballs to help keep things/people moving. Why BR took up the spur line is a mystery.

    However, I seem to recall about 30 years ago, that BR cleared the track bed and it looked as though the old spur line was going to be relaid. Then work stopped and not only did we not get the line relaid but the fast-running tracks that passed through the West Station were ripped up. I guess this was due to their redundancy and the reduction of freight being conveyed by rail.

    Mr Kemsley’s point about restoring the spur line is well made and would indeed be a comparatively cheap fix to some of the transport challenges we currently face. Sadly, whilst attractive to consider, the new combined “parkway” station idea is a very expensive option, which will cause more problems than it solves. That’s very expensive, in terms of hard cash. local amenity and the environment. Canterbury is blessed with having so much green, open space, very close to the city centre and most residents’ homes. To concrete over 30/40 acres of it is madness, folly and all points north of barking!

    Several UK towns and cities have taken up the idea of road/rail trams, as suggested by Mike Scott and in places such as Sheffield, Manchester and more recently, Edinburgh, this type of system works well. Running trams along an expanded Canterbury rail network, in between mainline services, is well worth looking at. The main obstacle to be surmounted would be cutting/covering the line from west of Whitehall railway bridge to east of Kingsmead level crossing: roughly 500m either side of what would then be an underground Canterbury West. This, though an expensive piece of civil engineering, would provide a forever solution to the gridlock on St. Dunstan’s Street and facilitate more rail traffic (eg trams) running along the line. Were the spur line to be re-laid, trams could shuttle between the West and East Stations, which would be a journey of about 5 minutes’ duration.

    Expanding the rail network, could take in some other ideas which occasionally float to to the top.
    Re-laying the old Elham Valley line as far out as the A2 near the Gate Inn P&R via K&C Hospital
    Re-laying part of the Crab & Winkle line via a UKC station to help reduce Whitstable traffic.
    New tram stations at Broad Oak Road, Howfield Lane/A28 and the Mount’s Farm development/A2.

    Yes, yes, I know some of these ideas are as mad as the parkway scheme but it’s thinking out of the box time and if we, the UK, have enough loot to consider a combined Canterbury station, then kicking off with some other, cheaper options is not a bad start. Worth a gander anyway.

  8. It is interesting that Network Rail has just released some old photographs of the near-collapse into the sea of the main line at Folkestone Warren 100 years ago – see https://www.networkrail.co.uk/the-great-fall-historic-landslip-images-resurface/

    I recall that, in the late 1980s, BR became so concerned about the possibility of a similar event that, it obtained planning permission from CCC to build a spur from the West line to the East line at Whitehall, cutting across a corner of Hambrook Marshes, in case it were needed.
    It was, of course, never built, and the planning permission will no doubt have long since lapsed, but the drawings should still exist at Military Road showing how the two lines could be linked up in a way acceptable to railway engineers.

  9. Some interesting comments including that of David Kemsley ,which seems to have a smaller financial burden. Why does nobody ever illustrate what they mean on a plan? In about 2008 there was a headline in the local press saying ” Parkway station plan revealed”…of course there was no plan to look at just a vague statement.

    The physical damage a Parkway Station would cause would be immense and do we really want to be devoid of two centrally sited stations. We would have to have masses of bus,car and taxi trips to get people there.

    I believe that the maximum gradient for a rail track is about 1 in 40, so any change of level would need a very long linear distance.

    A simple drawn proposal would show people more clearly the impact. ( While they were drawing maybe they could show a suggested route for the eastern by pass,….another vague idea. I suggest right through the Mountfield site and then squeezing between Pilgrims Place housing on Littlebourne Road and the golf course.)

    The idea of keeping Canterbury East only with a link back to Sturry is an interesting one. It would need more room for parking though.

    So those who propose these ideas show us on paper!

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