The proposed station is intended to link Kent International Airport (Manston) to the Southeastern High Speed rail service. Somehow. On the left is Southeastern Network’s map of their routes (click it to big it).
The pale grey track that loops out from the existing Eutrostar route between Ebbsfleet and Ashford is the new high-speed rail link, taking in the Medway towns, the north Kent coast, Thanet and Canterbury. We are being promised shorter journey times from December 2009.
The map’s legend has a symbol for Airport Interchange, notably missing from the Ramsgate area, for the simple reason that the Interchange or Parkway Station doesn’t exist. Here’s the high-speed link on a conventional map: the route is the blue line; the blue pins are stations; the red bits are explained later. Click here to see the full Google map.
Which brings us lumbering to the inevitable question: where will that little Airport Interchange symbol go? Where will Manston Parkway be built? The strategy document is curiously non-committal, but suggests somewhere in the vicinity of the airport (sensible) and the Eurokent Business Park and Westwood (mad).
In this close-up of the earlier map, the red pins are the Manston Business Park (MBP) and Westwood, the red block the runway, the pink area around it the airport site, and the little yellow blob the Passenger Terminal.
- Building the Parkway half way between MBP/Westwood and KIA will be a poor solution for both, offering only a marginal improvement over using the existing Ramsgate station.
- If it’s built at KIA, it will be as far from MBP/Westwood as the existing Ramsgate station, thus offering no advantage to MBP/Westwood.
- If it’s built at MBP/Westwood, it will be as far from KIA as the existing Ramsgate station, thus offering no advantage to KIA.
Introducing MBP/Westwood into the calculations is bonkers – it instantly creates more problems than it solves. Let’s assume instead that the airport is the sole driver. Dear reader, if you ran the world, how would you get passengers from the airport onto the high-speed link?
- a shuttle bus service from the Passenger Terminal, along the Manston Road to Ramsgate Station;
- modify the Manston Road to make it straighter and faster, or just build a dedicated faster, straighter road;
- nick a few miles of the Docklands Light Railway (or build your own) and some of those neat electric shuttle trains. This service could run straight into Ramgate Station, passengers then just walk across the platform onto the high-speed train to St Pancras, where they can then wrestle their luggage through the Tube network to get somewhere useful;
- build a new station on the high-speed route, where the track is nearest the southern tip of the airport, with a bus service from the Passenger Terminal to the new station.
In terms of practicality:
- you could start tomorrow for the cost of hiring or buying some coaches;
- straightening the road would cause months of delays, and would need the agreement of many landowners (as would building a new road);
- a light rail service would also need the agreement of many landowners, and would involve some major works at Ramsgate Station itself;
- retro-fitting additional stations on the fastest stretch of the high-speed loop would be counter-productive. The train would have to crawl from Ramsgate to Parkway and wait for at least the minimum 2 minutes before restarting.
Whichever solution is chosen, there is still the problem of the cost of the train journey. Rail fares from Kent to London are (unreasonably) expensive, and the high-speed service will apparently be 10-20% dearer still. This doesn’t sit easily with a business model based on high volume, low budget passenger traffic – the train ticket could be costing as much as the plane ticket.
Local tourists, drawn from the airport’s catchment area, are more likely to drive to the relatively cheap car park at Manston. Foreign tourists heading for London can choose from other airports that have cheaper connections to the capital. I don’t see Manston Parkway Station being built. Do you?