Work has begun to prepare Ashford International’s high-speed platforms for new trains which will safeguard direct high-speed international services from Ashford.
Network Rail is already installing new signalling equipment to allow Eurostar’s e320 trains – and potentially any other operator’s next generation high speed trains – to access the station. Now the firm’s engineers are updating the international platforms to match European-width trains.
The work is part of a £10m project being delivered by Network Rail and backed by Kent County Council and Ashford Borough Council, with funding coming from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership through the Local Growth Fund.
Network Rail’s senior commercial scheme sponsor, Mark Ellerby, said: “When Ashford International was rebuilt in the 1990s, the platforms used by international trains were not built to full European standards, because the Eurostars of that era ran on normal GB tracks.
“The work we are doing with new signalling equipment and the platforms will future-proof the town’s station and preserve its status as part of Europe’s high speed network – one of only four stations in the country to have that honour.
“High speed rail and links to Europe have given Ashford a huge boost over the past 21 years and we are pleased to be working with Eurostar and local authorities to keep that going.”
The first of Eurostar’s new e320 trains is set to call at Ashford from April, using the amended platforms and the signalling system.
Cllr Mike Whiting, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “Kent County Council fully supports this investment at Ashford International, which will ensure that Kent continues to be served by European rail services at both its international stations.
“The County Council has worked in close partnership with Ashford Borough Council, Network Rail, Eurostar, High Speed 1 Ltd and the Office of Road & Rail to ensure that this project is brought to completion.
“I look forward to the launch of the Ashford Spurs project in April this year, and the great travel opportunities to continental Europe that this will secure for the future of Ashford and the wider Kent economy.”
Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader of Ashford Borough Council, said: “This multi-million pound investment in state-of-the-art signalling equipment at Ashford International will secure the long-term future of Ashford’s place on the European rail map.
“It is great to see another of Ashford’s Big 8 projects progressing well, ensuring that Ashford stays the UK’s International Town.
“These works may cause some disruption for local residents and passengers over the next few months, but the benefits to Ashford’s economy and its ongoing success will be well worth it to retain direct rail access to Brussels and four of France’s five largest cities*.”
Mary Walsh, Director of Communications, Eurostar, said: “The upgrades at Ashford International will allow even more of our customers to benefit from the comfort and style of our e320 trains. With more spacious surroundings, free wi-fi and over 300 hours of entertainment available through the Eurostar app, our e320 trains transform the on board experience.”