Thanet Parkway

This is set to become the third new station to open in Kent during the 21st Century, after Ebbsfleet International (2007) and Rochester (2015). A potential fourth has been outlined for the Hoo Peninsula, upon the single-track freight-only branch line to the Isle of Grain. The Thanet construction site (at time of typing – 2021) lies adjacent to the village of Cliffsend, two route miles west of Ramsgate upon the double-track which runs from there to the triangular junction at Minster, where lines from Dover and Canterbury West are met.

A “Thanet Parkway” station is referred to in House of Commons papers dating back to as early as 1999. A debate in Parliament on 9th February of that year recounts a meeting between the then leader of Kent County Council and Railtrack, which reportedly showed a willingness by these parties to study the prospect of not only the provision of a “Thanet Parkway” station, but also the building of a “fast line”. The latter was presumably in reference to an upgraded Thanet to Ashford via Canterbury route, given that construction of what we today know as “High Speed 1” (HS1) was already underway. Indeed, the emphasis of the remark was on better connecting East Kent with London via Canterbury and Ashford using the “fast link”, which cannot be referring to anything other than what became HS1.

The late 1990s interest surrounding the Parkway scheme came to nothing, but the prospect of a new station serving the area was again brought to the fore in May 2013, as part of the Government’s aviation strategy. This outlined development of Manston as a major regional airport, for the site enjoyed strong road links with the capital and general south east — particularly via Thanet Way (A229) and the M2 — in addition to well-placed railway connections. The latter encompassed the long-standing routes to London via Faversham and Tonbridge, but also the 2007-opened HS1, upon which domestic services had commenced in 2009. Key to Manston Airport’s development was the provision of a Thanet Parkway station, which could tap into the high speed domestic services to London, but also provide a passenger railway link to Gatwick over upgraded infrastructure. The 2013 aviation report had remarked on the proposed station being a key driver to making Manston a more attractive choice for passengers, just like the positive effect the Metro rail had on the popularity of Newcastle Airport when a line to the latter was opened in 1991.

In May 2014, Manston Airport formally closed, reportedly after losses amounting to £10,000 daily. In spite of this, it was not the end for the Thanet Parkway station concept and, on 22nd July of the same year, Kent County Council’s Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee supported making the scheme a reality, setting the ball rolling for land acquisition for the construction site. Two consultation periods followed, in 2015 and 2017, and the estimated station completion date was set for January 2019. Justification for a new station by this time was attributed much more to the general need to regenerate East Kent, the onset of new residential development, accessibility to the Discovery Park (Pfizer’s former pharmaceutical works at Sandwich), and improving links with London. The concept of an airport station had gone, although the proposed rail site’s proximity to Manston Airport was still mentioned as being advantageous, given that the gigantic area could potentially be redeveloped into something completely different, such as housing.

January 2019 came and went and, by November of that year, a revised project timeline had pushed the completion date back to 2022. Archaeological digs began on the proposed station site at Cliffsend in October 2020, and preparation works for construction started in January of the following year. The entire scheme has been priced at £34.51 million, funding being provided by six different bodies — including district and county councils — and completion is still estimated for 2022, although opening to passenger trains is not expected until 2023.

Two platforms are set to open at Thanet Parkway, along the sides of the existing railway embankment, and these will be capable of accommodating trains twelve carriages in length. The original plans stipulated the platforms being linked by an enclosed footbridge encompassing lifts; however, a revised planning application submitted in November 2019 omitted the footbridge. Instead, a walking route between both sides of the station would be established using an existing footpath which passed under the railway through an arched bridge at this point, the latter being a feature of the line since the earliest years. The removal of the footbridge from the scheme was to reduce the visual impact of the new station; the platforms would each still posses a lift shaft and stairs to link them to ground level. Waiting shelters are planned for each platform and, given that the station is to be unstaffed — at least initially — no main building housing a ticket office will be evident. 297 car parking spaces are planned, in addition to a drop-off point, bus stop, electric car charging points, and secure cycle storage. The latter will presumably be along the lines of the “cycle hub” which was commissioned at Dartford station in 2016. The planning application also refers to the upgrading of Cliffsend Level Crossing, which is located about 350-yards east of the station site. At present, this level crossing is protected by automatic lifting half-barriers — i.e. the barriers block just the one lane in direction of travel. Your author surmises that an upgrade will involve the installation of full barriers at this level crossing, which extend across the entire road width on both sides of the railway. Construction of the station continues.

26th May 2021

A northward view from the Minster to Ramsgate line shows the redevelopment of fields in full swing for the new station. The southern perimeter of Manston Airport is about ⅔-mile in the distance. © David Glasspool

22nd June 2021

The formation of the new station's entry road was in evidence in this southward view from the adjacent A299 "Hengist Way", kerb edging already being in place. In the background, on the left, can be seen the existing arch underneath the railway which will be used for passage between the platforms. © David Glasspool