Ashford International

NOTE: the content below was generated before the 'Ashford spurs' project was completed in April 2018 - see https://www.modernrailways.com/article/ashford-spurs-signalling-upgrade-complete

It also does not reflect the Covid-19 pandemic-induced and now indefinitely-postponed withdrawal of Eurostar services from Kent's two international stations, or the various and thus far unsuccessful attempts to introduce another international passenger service operator with or even without calls at either or both of those two stations.

Eurostar travellers in Kent protested about the axing of most of the Eurostar calls at Ashford International station, in favour of Ebbsfleet in north Kent.

The changes were prompted by the closure in November 2007 of Waterloo International and the opening of St Pancras International.

At the time Ashford lost most of its former Eurostar service of "10 out and 12 back” a day.

Ashford station cost £100million to rebuild for Eurostar services back in the 1990s, which seems like a waste of money now, if only four trains each way stop there.

Railfuture believes the fullest use should be made of this asset.

Eurostar did not properly market Ashford, and Railfuture is worried many people from Kent, Sussex, Surrey and South London will choose not to board Eurostar at Ebbsfleet but to travel by air.

Ebbsfleet International station is near both Gravesend and the M25 and has parking for 9,000 cars, but it is in one of the most congested locations on the motorway network.

Worse still, Ebbsfleet International station has no direct access from other train services, and the nearest station is Northfleet, about a mile away with no specific footpath connection.

Ebbsfleet domestic station opened in December 2009, and is served by trains between London, Gravesend, The Medway Towns and Faversham and the Kent coast via Ashford. This has supported the 'reverse flow' connection to St Pancras to access the Eurostar services, which then travel back down the same routes to Ebbsfleet and Ashford on their way to the Channel Tunnel.

Most Kent rail passengers who do not or cannot travel by car will be able to gain access to Eurostar services only via the four daily trains calling at Ashford or use the domestic service to travel all the way to St. Pancras and then back out again.

Railfuture continues to call on Eurostar to provide a better service, with trains calling at least every two hours ­alternately at Ebbsfleet or Ashford. Paris, Lille and Brussels must continue to be served by these trains.

Railfuture, in conjunction with European rail passenger organisations, has been campaigning within the European Union for improved cross-border rail services throughout Europe, in line with EU policy.

It is difficult to travel by rail between Ashford and Calais rail service and its is absurdly expensive, while motorists have both frequent Eurotunnel and ferry services.

Dover-Folkestone and Calais should enjoy Eurostar services from Ashford every two hours.

Railfuture continues to urge both Eurostar and the Government to reconsider their attitudes, have more concern for the environment of the south-east, and ensure that Ashford is given back its former service levels.

Local residents, businesses and councils vigorously oppose Eurostar’s proposals. Ashford resident, Mrs Edith Robson, launched a petition against the cuts and collected thousands of signatures.

After meeting Kent County Council cabinet member, Roger Gough, she received the backing of the county council, which is working with Ashford Borough Council and local MPs to reverse Eurostar’s proposals.

Kent has also received support from local authorities across the south east and, at a European level, in northern France and Brussels.

In Brussels, a cross-party group of south east members of the European Parliament are working hard to reverse the Eurostar proposals.

One of them, Sharon Bowles, said at the time the service was reduced that it inconvenienced passengers throughout the area who rely on the service, and who now need to travel to Ebbsfleet station for the Eurostar connection (mostly travelling there by car with the associated environmental costs).

"The cuts cause a massive loss of revenue for local businesses which rely on these passengers custom. People are indignant that they have not been properly consulted and that a service like Eurostar, which has been built on public funding, should be able to completely overlook the needs of the community."

Railfuture agrees with critics who view Eurostar as "an airline on wheels" which refuses to co-operate with ordinary train operators.

Michael Whitson of Tonbridge Travellers (living in Paddock Wood) believes Eurostar does not co-operate with SouthEastern to promote Ashford as an interchange station.

He said: "When you consider that West Kent is an extremely wealthy area full of people from Sevenoaks - Tonbridge - Tunbridge Wells who are likely to want to travel with as few problems as possible and who could be persuaded to leave their cars or to travel by train to Ashford one can only wonder why this has not taken place.

"The M25 is a traffic nightmare with persistent delays which would make estimating a journey time extremely difficult and when you get to Ebbsfleet the idea of parking in 9,000 space car park is also a bit of a nightmare."

The station is also located at the end of the Marshlink line from Hastings, with through trains to Eastbourne and Brighton on the Coastway line - another viable interchange for passengers from East and West Sussex and beyond to access the international services without having to travel to St. Pancras. Railfuture is campaigning for improvements on Marshlink, including electrification. The feasibility of extending Highspeed services from St Pancras to Hastings/Bexhill via Ashford is also being carried out following work the Railfuture has been doing in East Sussex.

Further problems have been identified with the provision of services off  HS1 to Ashford. Although, as built, the signalling is compatible with the original Eurostar fleet of trains it is not compatible with their replacements, currently being built, and those of other european operators that have shown an interest in runnng services to and from the UK.  

This problem has been acknowledged and european funding has been made available to look at the problem and identify technical solutions. Full funding has not yet been identified for the full cost of the resignalling required and the timescale is not known. This could mean even fewer international services being able to use Ashford Internatonal Station and impact the viability of the border controls and facilities required. Railfuture will continue to press for these improvements and a fair share of the international traffic at this station.