This week life has been dominated by talk about trains. There are two separate issues which will affect us in Ashford: the reform of the railways across the country and the new rescue package for Eurostar.
On the first, the replacement of the franchise system with a model based on Transport for London, where operators are given contracts to run a service all of whose specifications are decided by a single “Guiding Mind”, is designed to make things simpler. I strongly suspect that the verdict of passengers will depend on whether the new system is more reliable, and cheaper than before.
In particular a number of Ashford commuters, who have become used to working from home during the pandemic, will want to know whether it will be possible to have a season ticket system that works for someone who is not going into the office five days a week.
In the future many people will travel to work for two or three days but not go back to the full commute. The first step towards season tickets which encourage this new type of working will come next month, with pay-as-you-go digital carnets available, but this will need to go much further in the future. Trains need to be full to be viable, so encouraging passengers is a key test for the new system.
As for Eurostar, the fact that it has been rescued is good news, because any new operator would be less likely to resume services to Ashford. But it is not completely reassuring. The company itself has said it intends to resume Ashford services next year, which is what they have said ever since they suspended services.
The key will be how fast passenger numbers come back. The company now has huge debts to service, so it will need to be making significant profits to resume the full previous service. I have been assured that they do intend to reopen in Ashford, but these are nervous times.