The Medway Connection
Had British Rail’s (BR) original Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) proposals gone ahead, which outlined a high speed line passing beneath the South East London suburbs, this station would have served West Kent rather than today’s Ebbsfleet International. In a 1988 BR Board report on the CTRL, mention was made of discussions taking place to decide upon the site of a “Mid-Kent Parkway” station. It was reported that the proposed station would have “extensive car parks” and have a journey time to Kings Cross of under half an hour. Its raison d'être was to relieve existing routes to the capital of commuter traffic, whilst significantly speeding up journey times.
In November 1989, BR introduced a Private Bill to Parliament for its CTRL. This was proposed to be a double-track Berne Gauge line with a maximum operating speed of 140-MPH, upon which would be four stations: Kings Cross, Waterloo, Mid-Kent Parkway, and Ashford. The eastern portion of the route was not unlike that of today’s “High-Speed 1”, following the corridor of the M20 from the Chunnel portal to Maidstone via Ashford. At Maidstone, the line would slice through the northern part of the Parish of Aylesford, immediately north of villages Eccles and Sandling. West of Maidstone, the line would cut through Gravesham, passing north of Meopham; a new railway course upon the surface would also be forged through Dartford’s Darent Valley and, on reaching Swanley, the tracks would dive into a 12.1-mile-long tunnel. Within the latter, a junction was to be made underneath Dulwich, where the line would split to reach Waterloo and a new underground terminal at Kings Cross.
The scheme was thrown into disarray in 1990 when, on Thursday 14th June of that year, the Government confirmed that it would not pump any public money into the CTRL. As a result, BR’s two private sector partners in the project, "Trafalgar House" and "British Insulated Callender's Cables" (BICC), immediately announced that they were pulling out, by which time the link was priced at £3.5 billion. BR made known that it was still keen to pursue the CTRL and would present new plans to the Government six to nine months later.
In 1990, BR business sector "Network SouthEast" (NSE) started to promote a Mid-Kent Parkway station as part of BR’s CTRL. Whilst it was suggested that BR was still consulting various stakeholders on the best site for the station, in reality the location had by that time been narrowed down to an area within the Parish of Aylesford, west of the A229. The line bordered the northern perimeters of Eccles and Sandling villages, and situated in-between the two was to be the Parkway station. A single island platform, 400-metres in length, was envisaged; the double CTRL line would widen to four tracks at this point; two serving the station and the remaining pair bypassing the platform to accommodate non-stop trains. NSE’s promotional material of the time stated that car parks with 4,000 space capacity would be linked to the island platform by footbridges. An artist’s impression of the station showed a flat-roofed rectangular platform canopy which looked like it had come straight out of the architectural playbook for the 1960s West Coast Main Line electrification, closely resembling those examples built at Wolverhampton and Coventry.
The journey time between Mid-Kent Parkway and Kings Cross was envisaged to be 25 minutes, comparing favourably with the 43 minutes between the capital and Chatham, and 60 minutes between the former and Maidstone on existing lines. During the peak time, a train would start from Mid-Kent Parkway every twenty minutes, comprising over 1,100 seats, and a service frequency of two trains per hour to London would be maintained during the off-peak. The station would be served by domestic services only (unlike today’s Ebbsfleet), but in the off-peak, connections would be available with Ashford, where international trains were to stop. Artists' impressions and photographs which accompanied promotional material of the time suggested that the domestic high speed services would be formed of InterCity 225 train sets, then recently introduced to the East Coast Main Line. Emphasis was put on forecasted rail growth for the late 1990s, which could not be satisfied by introducing more “Networker” trains to existing lines.
On Wednesday, 9th October 1991, the Government formally threw its support behind an alternative CTRL scheme to that proposed by BR. Structural engineering firm “Ove Arup & Partners” devised a route which tunnelled under the Thames between Dartford and Thurrock, and entered the capital through the East London suburbs. Maps in newspapers of the period still show a terminal at Kings Cross, rather than today’s St Pancras, in addition to a whole host of possible intermediate stops: Stratford, Dagenham, Rainham, Dartford, Swanscombe, Medway Parkway, and Ashford. Medway Parkway was roughly equidistant between Rochester and Chatham on the CTRL, so was a different station to the earlier-mentioned Mid-Kent Parkway. So, what of the latter? In a House of Commons sitting on 22nd March 1993, it was confirmed by the then Secretary of State for Transport that the Mid-Kent Parkway station proposals were not being moved forward with. Today, the site formerly intended for the station is now home to Kit's Coty Vineyard.
With thanks to Terry Johnson for supplying a promotional leaflet which provided the inspiration for this section.
Your author has done his best to create a track plan based on a drawing from a leaflet, combined with artists' impressions of the proposed station site. Click the above for a larger version.
© David Glasspool
23rd August 1989
Promotional material for Mid-Kent Parkway comprised photographs and artists' impressions of InterCity 225 sets, suggesting that these would form the high-speed domestic services through Kent. The type was introduced to the East Coast Main Line in March 1989. Rather than being serious contenders for the CTRL, perhaps it just made sense to include Britain's latest high speed electric train as part of the case for the proposed station and route. The above view depicts Class 91 No. 91005 at the head of the "Yorkshire Pullman" at Kings Cross.
© David Glasspool Collection