Rail Minister Huw Merriman formally opened Thanet Parkway station on Friday (September 8), Kent’s first new railway station in eight years and Thanet’s first in almost 100 years.
The minister attended the celebratory opening event alongside invited guests and senior representatives from Network Rail, Southeastern, Kent County Council, Thanet District Council and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.
There was music from Thanet Big Sing Community Choir and food supplied by Chapel House Estate from Minster.
The winners of an art competition that was held at Minster CofE Primary and Chilton Primary were also unveiled with each of the six winning pupils receiving a family High Speed travel pass from Southeastern.
The minister unveiled a commemorative plaque to officially mark the opening and he enjoyed a station tour.
Guests also took a short trip to Margate on Trainbow, the first of the Class 395 Javelin fleet that has had a major interior refresh, as part of a £27m upgrade programme.
There is currently a discount ticket offer running at https://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/travel-information/more-travel-help/thanet-parkway-station
Thanet Parkway price tag
Thanet Parkway Station opened to passengers on July 31, some 13 years after the scheme was first proposed and at a cost that has quadrupled from an estimated £11m in 2015 to some £44m.
The total price tag may even exceed £44m as further funding has been needed to complete level crossing and signalling work. The project work was impacted by rising inflation.
A further spend of £48.6k is being made for a Thanet Parkway cost review and report commissioned by Kent County Council and being carried out by West Midlands based Sable Leigh Consultancy. That report is due to be completed by next February.
County Councillor Karen Constantine says she has also had confirmation that £30,000 will be spent installing 38 speed bumps across Parkway car park to stop nuisance drivers.
Get Building Fund £12,874,000
Local Growth Fund £14,000,000
Kent County Council £11,585,319
Thanet council £2,000,000
New Stations Fund £3,400,000
Total £43,859,319 (excluding additional level crossing costs and the cost review report)
What’s at the station?
Thanet Parkway has two 250 metre platforms that can accommodate 12-car trains, and will offer services to St Pancras International via Ashford International in 70 minutes and mainline connections to London terminals and across Kent and the Medway towns.
There are lifts and stairs to access the platforms, ticket vending machines, waiting shelters, acoustic barriers, parking for 293 vehicles, bus stops, pick-up and drop-off zones, electric charging points, hearing loops, cycle storage, CCTV, seating, landscaping works and passenger help points to provide remote assistance for those who need it.
The station includes step-free lift access to platforms; assisted Boarding Points on both platforms and now has public toilets in the car park – initially the station only had staff toilets.
There is also tactile paving, CCTV and a defibrillator.
Parking includes 16 spaces for Blue Badge holders and a number of charging points for electric vehicles.
Pick up and drop off zones have also been set out, along with a station bus stop which will be served by an electric minibus shuttle to Discovery Park.
The station is accessed from the A299 Hengist Way with a new pedestrian and cycleway to and from Clive Road in Cliffsend village.
Opposition and problems
The project has faced opposition from numerous district and county councillors who say the isle already has seven stations and does not need another, unstaffed one.
There have been questions over passenger safety at an unstaffed station and the danger of more building on agricultural land due to the expectation of the station creating demand for new homes.
In response to concerns Southeastern pledged to staff the station for around six weeks on weekdays between 8am and 4pm and says it has “committed to keeping staffing of the station under review.” This will now to be permanent, says Steve White, Southeastern’s Managing Director. Each service also has onboard crew.
Last month security at the station had to be stepped up and police response teams pledged to focus attention at Thanet Parkway after issues with antisocial driving around the car park.
Complaints about nuisance driving at the site prompted stepped up Kent County Council security staff and Southeastern Railway Enforcement Officers undertaking regular patrols at the station.
County Councillor Karen Constantine says she still believes the station is a ‘white elephant.’
She said: “It was no surprise to learn that Parkway only has 300 users per day. I have long maintained this station is quite simply in the wrong location and that Thanet didn’t need yet another station. We did need, and we still need, improvements to the journey time between Thanet and London. It’s irksome that the journey time from Ramsgate station is now even longer.
“It’s interesting that KCC has now said it would think differently about this decision. All I can say is Labour at KCC certainly asked for a reconsideration.
“Many the residents remain unhappy with the noise from announcements and the cutting through that is predictably taking place. I fear once car parking charges are instated this will become worse.
“To add insult to injury KCC has very recently confirmed to me that they are paying a further £30,000 for the installation of 38 speed bumps across Parkway car park to stop nuisance drivers. Ironic considering I am repeatedly told there is no cash for road safety measures in Ramsgate – despite accidents and near misses.
“KCC has demonstrated a stunning lack of common sense when it comes to spending tax payer money. Thanet, and Ramsgate, desperately need regeneration, a white elephant railway station will not achieve that in the here in now. The potential beneficiaries will be the construction companies – at some point in the future.”
What was said at the opening event:
Rail Minister Huw Merriman said: “The opening of Thanet Parkway is the latest example of the Government’s commitment to making rail journeys across the UK more accessible and I’m delighted to see this impressive new station already making a difference in the community.
“It will provide a boost to the local economy by better connecting people to employment, education and business opportunities while allowing thousands of people to benefit from new high-speed services into London as well as leisure and tourism attractions across Kent.”
David Davidson, Network Rail’s Kent route director, added: “As part of this project we upgraded several level crossings to allow trains to run faster, which created space in the timetable for a new stop at Thanet Parkway without increasing journey times for passengers.”
Steve White, Southeastern’s Managing Director, said passenger numbers have been building since the station opened at the end of July and he expected to hit the 10,000th customer mark shortly. Reportedly around 300 passengers a day use Thanet Parkway compared to just under 3,000 at Ramsgate station.
He added: “We’ll have staff at the station everyday between 8am and 4pm and crew on board every service, to assist customers.”
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said: “A few years ago the last piece of the funding jigsaw, some £17m, was still to be found else the Parkway project would fail. It was only after my Prime Minister’s Question in July 2020 that the required shortfall was agreed by the Department for Transport.
“We still wait a judicial decision on re-opening Manston airport, which will be the centrepiece for the renaissance of East Kent. We have a great quality, new station to accommodate whatever the future holds for Manston.”
Thanet council leader Rick Everitt added: “Thanet welcomes the very substantial investment that Parkway has received from the government and Kent County Council, and treats it as a vote of confidence in its future, which we believe is a bright one. From the district council’s perspective, we will do everything we can to get as much value out of the new station as we can.”
The Isle of Thanet News columnist Christine Tongue attended the official opening:
Thanet Parkway is the first train station to be built in Thanet in nearly 100 years— but without a ticket office or, initially, staff or a toilet!
Thanet Parkway station, near Cliffsend, has been running for two months but officially opened on Friday.
They’ve now backtracked on all its initial shortcomings — but in a way few passengers are likely to be happy with.
They’ve put toilets in the station car park — but they’re locked after 4pm (and they don’t have any signs on them).
Instead of a ticket office, there are brand new state of the art ticket machines. And there will be a member of staff on hand to advise people needing help.
The official opening was celebrated with a grand party, including a huge marquee groaning with refreshments, a local choir singing jolly songs, paintings from local school children and the political elite of Kent turning up to unveil a plaque.
Transport minister Huw Merriman was there and was introduced by MP Craig Mackinlay. Mackinlay said they’d joined parliament at the same time but Merriman had climbed ministerial ladders that had eluded him. We all laughed.
Merriman attempted to defend the station’s accessibility for disabled people – although he vehemently turned down the chance to try it out for himself in a borrowed wheelchair. He also pointed to the use of braille at various places in the station to help passengers with sight problems — but didn’t explain how they’d find these places unless they had somebody with them.
Generally Merriman and other local politicians justified the building of the station on the basis of the economic benefits it would bring East Kent.
But the biggest question about the station remains: is it really money well spent? Especially at a time when the train companies are planning to close ticket offices and shed staff wholesale in attempts to save money.
The station cost about £44 million to build, was erected on good farm land amid much local protest and very few people are using it — 300 a day, compared to 3000 in Ramsgate Station, just down the line.
The politicians say this will all change as more houses are built around the station. They aren’t answering the much more controversial question of how many more new houses will have to built on how much green space before Thanet Parkway is justified.