Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

There’s no doubt the new High Speed 1 service to London is going from strength to strength. Next Monday sees the launch of the full service.
There are many advantages. Occasionally there are signal delays between Ramsgate and Ashford. The guard will apologise, and confidently announce that they expect to be able to make up the time, and time after time that proves to be the case. Most days the trains arrive a few minutes early at St. Pancras.
Just like one of my favourite films “Field of dreams” where a baseball ground is built in the middle of nowhere yet becomes a great success, High Speed 1 could have the slogan “If you build it they will come.” Numbers are steadily rising as the word gets out, and often at Ashford the train will almost fill. One of the great attractions is that the trains are never full, so you know you will always get a seat.
One slight glitch that it would be good to see addressed is having trains ready on time at Ramsgate. One of the bonuses of being a Ramsgate station commuter is that you can choose to catch a train that starts from the station. This means that you can arrive in good time, and know that you will go straight on to a train sitting waiting for you, no standing waiting in the cold on the platform. With winter coming this was always a positive for the older Southeastern trains services. Frequently the High Speed 1 service comes out of the shed or sidings at Ramsgate, only a minute or two before departure time. As there seems to be empty platform space it would be much appreciated if the trains could do as the older train stock and be sitting ready for 5-10 minutes before departure.
Another positive is the guaranteed seat with a table so you can work, that boarding at Ramsgate guarantees. The new trains thankfully have seating 4 abreast. It is always dispiriting when you find yourself on one of the 5 abreast carriages where people are forced to squeeze next to each other. These might be fine for short commutes around London, but for journeys over an hour they are uncomfortable.
As the word spreads more and more people are switching from Victoria, Cannon Street and Charing Cross. There are fewer delays, easier with only a partial service from St. Pancras at present and also the advantage of a dedicated line that does not have to fit in stopping services too. Finishing work near Charing Cross recently, I opted to take the tube to St. Pancras and even with the additional tube journey I was back in Ramsgate before a similarly timed train from Charing Cross.

I have also met people who previously took the train from Sandwich, Broadstairs, Margate and Birchington who have made the switch to High Speed 1 from Ramsgate. Some take connecting trains, but others drive. I think parking for Ramsgate station is going to become more and more of a problem. There may be an impact on the pictured Dumpton Park station which serves east Ramsgate which has the lowest passenger numbers in Thanet.
Using mobile internet connections is a slight problem, particularly for the Ashford – St. Pancras part of the journey as half the journey is in tunnels or deep cuttings. I have solved this by not battling for a connection. As there is a reliable free if not ultra quick wifi service throughout St. Pancras station a few minutes there allows any surfing or message sending before travelling onwards. Similarly in the evening and early arrival for departure allows messages to be checked and responded to before the journey home.

For those who do not want to pay the supplement the service is the same cost as current Southeastern trains to Canterbury West and Ashford International. This should be advertised more widely as there are people who are unaware of this.


  1. Mark, TDC had an action on their 2007-2011 Corporate Plan to "Work with partners to maximise the benefits of the high speed rail link (Start: Apr 08 - Finish: Dec 09)".

    So what have TDC actually achieved in the 20 months this objective has been out there? Well nothing actually, apart from fantasising about a parkway station at Manston. No advertising in London of Thanet as a weekend destination, no working with employment agencies in Thanet to promote new job opportunities being a shorter commute away, no working with development agencies to attract new business to the area down to better transport links.

    Still, would you expect anything more.......

  2. Shame it's not accesible to wheelchair users,ie stations still not accesable.

  3. Agree with the previous comments . I really think this service from Ramsgate , which I have been using daily now since the preview service started , does enhance the commuting experience . The difference in the season ticket prices , when worked out daily is , in my opinion , not considerably more and in any case well worth the difference . Its just a much more pleasant journey , not withstanding the quicker journey times .

  4. Steve
    Thank you for the reminder, I'm against Manston Parkway, the cost is massive, the demand unproven - its a classic vanity project. Sounds a bit like Turner Centre 2!

    I know not all stations are accessible but Ramsgate is and I know wheelchair users who use it. As far as I know the ramps are used onto HS1 llike current rolling stock, although this does require pre booking.

    Anon 15.40 I have been disappointed with people complaining about the extra cost. We now have the best service in the country, why should people in the middle of Wales or Scotland be subsidising us? It's reasonable we pay a bit extra as we're receiving a massive benefit.

  5. Surely the 'Field Of Dreams' quote could just as easily apply to Manston Parkway?

  6. I am an unashamed fan of the new rail service, tho the transfer to full timetable has seen some hiccups and delays. I would have thought Manston Parkway was now not really needed, a shuttle service to connect with the high speed lines would be as effective. It is not however a vanity project, and neither is Turner. Those sort of throw away lines do you little credit, Mark. Until the arrival of high speed, I thought Manston Parkway a necessity; high speed links give other choices, and will require a lesser scale of investment. Having said that, high speed is itself a huge investment and it clearly is working.

  7. Paul Carter spoke at a business breakfast in Ramsgate today and explained that KCC is working on a submission and outline costing to extend the high speed line to Canterbury and a Thanet Parkway station - the expected timing being 58 or so minutes to StPancras. That would be special. It would require huge government investment but given the high speed success is worth pursuing.