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Ashford celebrates High Speed 1 boom

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A year ago, Greengauge 21, in Early Lessons from Kent, described initial reactions to the new domestic high-speed services operating on High Speed 1.  We drew on findings from the Preview service running between June and December 2009. Since then, the full high-speed service has been  launched by Southeastern and this month sees its first anniversary.  So how is it looking one year in?

Well, a local news report last week was headlined Ashford celebrates boom as High Speed 1 reaches anniversary. Regeneration agency Ashford Future reports an upsurge in businesses relocating to the area. The town is now billed as “the fastest growing town between London and the continent”.  SEEDA (the South East England Development Agency) is expecting Ashford’s economy to be the fastest growing in Kent this year and next.

The combination of the fast rail link and affordable property prices is proving very successful. And the joined-up efforts of the local councils, businesses and regeneration agencies have made the most of this opportunity. Investor confidence is now high as businesses are assured of fast reliable links to London.

The experience with Southeastern’s high speed service illustrates two things. First, those who argue that providing fast HSR links to London will somehow ‘suck’ development back to the capital and fail to help regenerate the regions will need to note that the one clear example we have in Britain to date  (Ashford) shows how co-ordinated efforts on economic development and planning can ensure HSR brings the wider benefits suggested by economic modelling.

Second, this beneficial effect on the local economy happens early in the process, and ahead of full demand build-up of the HSR services itself. Changes in location decisions and in travel behaviour take more time to work through, as has been the case with commuter rail enhancements across the wider southeast over many years. There is plenty of growth to happen in the years ahead on Southeastern’s high-speed commuter service.


Some more statistics have just been published from Southeastern on the High Speed services:

  • There have been over 7.2 million journeys made on High Speed over the last year.
  • According to the independent Passenger Focus survey, 95% of people rate the service as good or very good.
  • 16% of the journeys made on High Speed are made by passengers who did not use the train before.
  • Keith Ludeman points out that with PPM at 99.1% “It is probably the most reliable and most popular rail service in the UK”.

That’s what HSR can deliver – fast, reliable and high quality train services.