Hundreds of businesses respond to survey calling for international rail services to get back on track

Hundreds of business leaders, representing thousands of employees, have responded to Kent County Council’s (KCC) call for views on the lack of international rail services stopping in Kent.

Early analysis of the survey results was shared with Ashford’s Joint Transportation Board last night (Tuesday, March 5). The survey received around 530 responses from business representatives operating in Kent and the wider region with nearly all calling for a return of stopping services in the county.

In October 2023, KCC, supported by Ashford Borough Council and Dartford Borough Council, launched the business survey to understand the impact international rail services not calling in Kent is having on trade. The survey ran for more than three months, closing in January 2024

The councils have focused on the impact of Eurostar’s decision to stop services since 2020 and have been working with rail industry leaders to address this.

Further work will now be completed to understand the full range of views, so a case can be built with the aim of persuading operators and government to get back on track in what is the Channel Tunnel’s 30th anniversary year.

KCC’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, Neil Baker said: “I want to thank every single one of the more than 500 businesses that have responded to our survey, calling for views on how the halting of international rail services calling in Kent has impacted their firms.

“These businesses represent more than 30,000 employees, demonstrating the economic importance of international rail to this county and the wider country.  We are focused on the opportunity to get these benefits back in the 30th anniversary year of the opening of the Channel Tunnel given it brought so many opportunities to the county prior to services being pulled from Kent in 2020.

“We will now continue to analyse the views that were shared with us and build a case that can be presented to central government and the international rail operators.”

A petition by a community group in Ashford, calling for the return of rail services to the continent at Kent stations is nearing 50,000 signatures, further demonstrating the strength of support from the general public for a return of services.

KCC’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Derek Murphy said: “Reinstating direct international passenger services to and from the continent will benefit local businesses and residents.

“The many local businesses that contribute to Kent’s visitor economy have always welcomed customers and visitors from mainland Europe. However, without trains from Paris, Lille, Calais, Brussels and Amsterdam stopping in Kent, overseas visitor numbers have decreased. The sector has been through a very challenging time in recent years and lost revenue from international visitors has not helped Kent’s businesses.

“The county is also losing out on opportunities for inward investment. Without the international trains stopping in the county Kent has lost its unique selling point of two excellent international stations. Many firms chose to locate near Ashford or Ebbsfleet to take advantage of direct rail services for staff and clients but having to travel to and from St Pancras not only makes business trips more difficult but reduces productivity.”

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