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Manston Parkway Station

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?

  1. a shuttle bus service from the Passenger Terminal, along the Manston Road to Ramsgate Station;
  2. modify the Manston Road to make it straighter and faster, or just build a dedicated faster, straighter road;
  3. 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;
  4. 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:

  1. you could start tomorrow for the cost of hiring or buying some coaches;
  2. straightening the road would cause months of delays, and would need  the agreement of many landowners (as would building a new road);
  3. a light rail service would also need the agreement of many  landowners, and would involve some major works at Ramsgate Station  itself;
  4. 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?

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