National and Local politics from a Liberal Democrat from Gillingham, Kent
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Is the Medway Valley line fit for purpose?
When Doctor Beaching wielded his famous axe that cut away all the unnecessary railway lines in the country there were some dubious losses and survivors. One such survivor is the Medway Valley line which runs from Strood to Paddock Wood.
It is a beautiful line, no doubts there, that runs through the heart of rural Kent and stops at beautiful Victorian stations like East Farleigh, Maidstone West and Yalding. The only reason that the line probably survived the axe was that it is the only way to connect North Kent lines with the Mid-Kent lines through Maidstone short of travellers going to Ashford or Bromley South and London Bridge and it does act as a handy short cut.
It is also helpful for people, such as myself, who don't drive and want a cheap day out to Maidstone. Some people have chosen to live out in East Farleigh and Yalding (I can't blame them!) in beautiful rural countryside rely on the line to get them to work in London and go to Strood to get a connection or to hop aboard the High Speed Rail link to St Pancreas. On a personal note it also helps me go and visit my Mother who lives in Marden from time to time.
The Line is however fairly ineffective. The trains run every half an hour and if you are delayed by minutes in getting to Strood or Paddock wood then you have to wait around at these choice locations twiddling your thumbs. Also as the trains run down a singular track if there is a problem upon the rail then the whole line is shut down. I was stuck on Strood station awaiting the train which had unfortunately broken down in Maidstone West station, I then had to wait 45 minutes for a Coach service to be organised and then a further 45 minutes for the drive to Maidstone. It is indeed much more convenient although slightly pricey, to catch the 101 Bus from Chatham to Maidstone Chequers centre, on the weekend there is the added bonus that it goes past my house in the evening on its way to Twydal!
Another problem is the nature of the stations. As I have written in past blogs the station at Strood and even Maidstone West station are not condusive to people with luggage, babies or wheel chairs. There are no plans to modernise these stations in the near future and indeed Maidstone West was one of the stations ear marked to be made Unmanned under the McNulty review. So between Strood and Paddock Wood there will be no assistance for travellers such as myself at the rural stations.
The line is also fairly lightly travelled, outside of rush hour, reflected in the two carriage trains that traverse the line once every half an hour and these trains are hardly packed.
This line is a bit of a white elephant with more problems than pro points, it either needs serious investment - Something Southeastern are unlikely to do, or maybe it does need to finally be pulled up and the loss cut. Although as a fan of railways, rural and Victorian lines in particular, I do not condone this for the sake of doing it. Maybe it would be better to convert it to a steam service again and used as a tourist attraction running down the scenic Medway line?