Test running the new Javelin

Recently while in London, I’ve seen adverts for the new high-speed commuter trains to go from London to Kent, which run along the new Channel Tunnel link. That line runs out of St Pancras, a north London station, across east London and crossing the Thames by a tunnel out past the Dartford river crossing. The only major town it passes through is Ashford. New trains have been delivered, known as the Javelin, which have a top speed of 140mph, and will form a high-speed commuter service for which passengers will have to pay a premium. Some BBC journos have been taking a test run.

Am I the only person to fail to see the point of this service? The whole point of high speed lines is to make longer distances possible to travel more quickly by not stopping at every small town. No part of Kent is more than 80 miles from London (Ashford is much less). No town has a population approaching 100,000. Instead, it consists of a collection of small to medium-size towns dotted over what is actually not a very wide area. Some of the bigger towns are further west, like Maidstone and Tonbridge, and therefore do not get a look-in although it might be possible to improve the service to those places along the old lines.

The line was built to run trains to Paris and Brussels, both several hundred miles from London, and the Eurostar train has a top speed of 186mph. Running commuter trains with a top speed of 140mph, which will not be travelling even that fast because they will be slowing down to stop at Stratford and Ebbsfleet, will degrade that service somewhat. Clearly, this was intended as a sweetener for commuters in Kent, but Kent has one of the densest rail networks in the whole country already, with trains running to all of the south London terminals (there are six). When Eurostar customers start complaining of delays because of lines being blocked by commuter trains from small towns in Kent, the ‘investment’ in these trains will start to look like more of a waste of money.

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