- Transport in Kent
This article is about the current and historical transport systems in the county of
Kentin South East England.
The earliest footpaths and roads in Kent ran in a northeast southwest direction and followed the natural contours of the land and the gaps in the downs and weald created by streams and rivers, these over time have been widened and metalled but rarely straighten. With the Roman invasion a road network was constructed to contact London to the Channel Ports of Dover, Lympne and Richborough. The London Dover road was
Watling Street. These road are now approximately the A2, B2068, A257, and the A28. When the roads were turnpiked in the 18th century, they were needed to carry foodstuffs from Kent to London, and the roads radiated from there. The A2 ran from Dartford (A207), Gravesend, Rochester, Canterbury and Dover. The A20 from Eltham, Wrotham, Maidstone, Charing, Ashford. Hythe, Folkestone and Dover. The A21 from Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells. cite book|last=Jessup|first=Frank W.|title =Kent History Illustrated |publisher = Kent County Council| date = 1966 | ] With the increased traffic on these roads, the main towns were bypassed and then in 1960s two motorways were built the M2 from Medway to Faversham, and the M20 from Swanley to Folkestone. Part of the M25 runs through Kent, from Westerham to the Kent and Essex tunnel at Dartford. Even these roads have failed to provide adequate capacity, and being perpetually upgraded and widened. The Dartford tunnel has been joined by the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, allowing four lane in each direction. This is a toll crossing, though the original agreement for the tunnel stated the toll would be removed when the construction costs had been metFact|date=May 2007. This has not happened.
Cinque Portswere important mediaeval ports. They were Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Romney and Hasting, and later Rye and Winchelsea. All of these have silted up with the exception of Dover which is a busy RORO ferry port. Ramsgateis a container port. The Medway Estuary has been an important port and naval base for 500 years. The River Medway is tidal up to Allington and navigable up to Tonbridge. There are two canals on Kent, the Royal Military Canalbetween Hythe and Rye, which is still extant, and the "Thames and Medway Canal" between Strood and Gravesend. Built in 1824, it was bought up by the railways in 1846 and backfilled.
The earliest locomotive driven, passenger carrying railway in Britain was the
Canterbury and Whitstable Railwaywhich opened in 1830. This and the London and Greenwich Railwaymerged into South Eastern Railways (SER) which built the first mainline though Kent with the explicit aim to connect the Kent coast ports with the capital. Hampered by unusual parliamentary restraint the line took the indirect route of sharing the LBSCR's main line until Redhill, Surrey, then travelling along the length of Kent via Tonbridge to reach the ports of Folkestone and Dover via the new "railway" town of Ashford - completed in 1844. SER's networks soon expanded with the North Kent Linealong the North Kent coast from London to Dartford, Gravesend and Strood, before following the Medway Valley (as the Medway Valley Linein 1844-56). Branches off this network gave SER access to Thanet from Ashford via Canterbury (1846), Hastings via the Romney Marsh (1852)and Hastings via Tunbridge Wells (1845-52). SER's major London termini were London Bridge, Charing Cross, and Cannon Street.
Kent also had a second major railway, the
London, Chatham and Dover Railway(LCDR) which competed extensively with the SER, leading to many Kentish towns and cites having two railway stations and several otherwise uneconomic lines being built. LCDR started out as the East Kent Railwayin 1858, with the aim of linking the North East Kent coast with the SER's North Kent Line. The LCDR's main line started from the Medway Towns and progressed eastwards via Sittingbourne and Faversham, before dividing to Dover via Canterbury and Thanet via Whitstable and Herne Bay. The SER successfully prevented the LCDR from gaining a connection to its line in Strood, so the LCDR was forced to build its own line to London, opening in 1861. The LCDR achieved this by connecting to the Mid-Kent Railwaynear Bromley, which connected to the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railwaywhich gave it access to the Victoria Station & Pimlico Railway Company and its Victoria Station. It soon built extensions to Sevenoaks (Bat & Ball) (1862), Ashford via Maidstone (1862), and a second London terminus (Blackfriars leading on to Holborn Viaduct - 1864-65).
The extensive competition saw the SER build a very expensive deviation via Orpington and Sevenoaks to avoid the lengthy and circuitous route via Redhill, opening in 1868. Thus towns such as Bromley, Gravesend, Strood, Rochester, Chatham, Sevenoaks, Maidstone, Canterbury, Whitstable, Ramsgate, Margate, Dover and Ashford 'enjoyed' having two stations.
The competition severely strained the resources of both companies, the LCDR given its later start, and the SER with neighbouring LBSCR to the west in Sussex and Surrey. Co-operation broke out with a joint line between Dover and Deal, but despite a carve up agreement of coastal traffic, competition still persisted leading to Thames terminals being constructed in the middle of the North Kent marshes by both companies (the
Hundred of Hoo Railwayand the Port Victoria branch). Eventually a "merger" by form of a "managing committee" (to avoid capital gains tax) was agreed and the South Eastern and Chatham Railway(SECR) was formed in 1899. Only some minor rationalisation was able to occur prior to World War I(the SER's Chatham branch closed, various connecting chords were constructed, etc).
In the aftermath of World War I, with the SECR having borne extensive amounts of war traffic, the government "grouped" all the railway companies together, with the SECR joining neighbouring LBSCR and LSWR in the Southern Railway in 1921.
Southern kept closed some inner London routes closed under wartime austerity measures, but embarked upon continuing SECR's rationalisation and a roll out of 660V DC
third railelectrification that had been successfully initiated by LSWR pre war. During the 1920s the inner suburban lines were electrified out to Dartford, Bromley and Orpington (1924-26). The 1930s saw the outer suburban services electrified; Sevenoaks (1935) and Gillingham (1939) and Maidstone West (1939). Electric traction thus epitomised the growth of commuting and the spread of the London commuter belt. The major item of rationalisation was the extensive work on Thanet, which saw the duplication removed.
World War II further devastated the railways, and post war the government nationalised the railways, forming
British Railways in 1948, with Southern being placed in the Southern Region. The 1955 British Transport Commissioners report planned out a major investment programme in the railways and Kent Coast Electrification was one of the 5 key projects. This saw the main lines to the ports electrified in two stages between 1959-1961. The signally was upgraded, new rolling stock purchased, platforms significantly lengthen and the track was widened between Bickley Junction and Swanley. However despite this massive investment, several remote lines were closed due to declining traffic and the infamous Beeching report. From the 1950s through to the 1980s branches closed including: Hawkhurst, Elham Valley, Canterbury and Whitstable Railway, Hythe, Sheppey Light Railway, Westerham, Hundred of Hoo (passengers only), and Gravesend West.
By the 1980s, the
Channel Tunnelwas being built and a new high speed link was needed to access St Pancras, but the choice of route was contentious. The link is due to be fully open in late 2007. There are two stations on the rail link, Ebbsfleet International between Dartford and Gravesend and Ashford International offering services to Lille, Paris and Brussels. Extra commuter services to London are scheduled to be introduced in 2009.
The late 1980s saw the organization of the railways change again, first with the "sectorisation" of British Rail with the abolition of the "Southern Region" and introduction of
Network SouthEastfor passenger services. The railways were privatised in 1996, with most Kent passenger services being run by Connex South Eastern( 14 October 1996to 9 November 2003). Connex encountered financial difficulties but embarked upon the mass replacement of the large obsolete rolling stock fleet. A temporary government owned Train operating company, South Eastern Trainsran from November 2003 to March 2006 to be replaced by the current incumbent Southeastern.
In addition to the "mainline" railways there are several light, heritage and industrial railways in Kent. There are three heritage, standard gauge railways;
Spa Valley Railwaynear Tunbridge Wells on the old Tunbridge Wells West branch, East Kent Railway on the old East Kent coalfield area and the Kent and East Sussex Railwayon the Weald around Tenterden. In addition there is the 15 inch gauge, tourist oriented Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railwayon the south east Kent coast along the Dungeness peninsular and the 2ft 6in, ex industrial Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway.
Kent was the forefront of the development of aviation in the UK with the
Royal Aero Clubin 1901 at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppeyfor balloon flying. This soon explained with the Short Brothersstarting to base Wright flyer from Shellbeach in July 1909. This soon moved to nearby Eastchurch. Shorts moved production to Rochester in 1913, where they constructed seaplanes along the banks of the River Medwayand aeroplanes from the nearby Rochester Airport.
Military Aviation was widespread throughout the county, with the embryonic
Royal Air Forceat Biggin Hill and the Navy at Manston, near Ramsgate. Many other air stations sprung up across the county due to its strategic position aside the channel and in the most direct flight path of enemy bombers heading for the capital and other targets (eg Chatham Dockyard was bombed in World War I).
With the appraoch of
World War II, Shorts opened a second factory in Belfastas the their Kent base was venerable to aerial bombardment. During World War IIaircraft manufacturing continued at both sites while also sustaining continual bombardment form the Axis air forces. The RAF fought the Battle of Britainover the skies of Kent and numerous fighter stations were created to base fighters; Biggin Hill, Gravesend, West Malling, Hawkingeand Lympne, while Eastchurch, Manston and Detlingwere under Costal Command. [cite book | last=Keegan|first=John|title = Times Atlas of the Second World War| date = 1989] Post-war Biggin Hill and West Malling continued as fighter bases while Manston was by the United States Air Force's Strategic Air Commandand later United States Air Forces in Europe. Due to its length, it was a V-bomber dispersal base. Due to their short runways (Biggin Hill and West Malling), but more generally Post Cold war defence cuts and the populated nature of Kent, the RAF bases were closed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The other World War II airfields have largely been developed over the years (as has West Malling). Shorts seaplane business closed after the Second World War with the demise the Flying Boat business, while the works at Rochester airport continue to make military aviation equipment, currently owned by BAE.
Currently Biggin Hill, Manston and Lydd serve as "outer" airport for London (general passenger aviation across the south east uses Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton airports). A limited number of charter flights and private jets use Lydd ("London Ashford") and Biggin Hill ("London Biggin Hill"), while Manston ("Kent International") see charters, air freight and even hosted a budget airline for a period. The remoteness of Lydd hinders further development, while Manston position of its approach directly over Ramsgate hinders the possible expansion of passenger services.
Light aviation continues in Kent at the grass airfields of Rochester and
Headcornand at the three tarmaced airfields. The continued urbanisation of Kent and planning constraints have in recent times threatened Rochester airport with development, while continued aviation activities still encounter opposition on the grounds of noise pollution.
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