Thanet Parkway

This became the third new station to open in Kent in the 21st Century, after Ebbsfleet International (2007) and Rochester (2015). Thanet Parkway lies adjacent to the village of Cliffsend, two route miles south west of Ramsgate upon the double-track which runs from there to the triangular junction at Minster, where lines from Dover and Canterbury West are met.

A "Thanet Parkway" station is referred to in House of Commons papers dating back as early as 1999. A debate in Parliament on 9th February of that year recounts a meeting between the then leader of Kent County Council and Railtrack, which reportedly showed a willingness by these parties to study the prospect of not only the provision of a "Thanet Parkway" station, but also the building of a "fast line". The latter was presumably in reference to an upgraded Thanet to Ashford via Canterbury West route, given that construction of what we today know as "High Speed 1" (HS1) was already underway. Indeed, the emphasis of the remark was on better connecting East Kent with London via Canterbury and Ashford using the "fast link", which cannot be referring to anything other than what became HS1.

The late 1990s interest surrounding the Parkway scheme came to nothing, but the prospect of a new station serving the area was again brought to the fore in May 2013, as part of the Government’s aviation strategy (ref: Aviation Strategy, First Report of Session 2013-14, Volume 2: Oral and Written Evidence, House of Commons Transport Committee). This outlined development of Manston as a major regional airport, for the site enjoyed strong road links with the capital and general south east — particularly via Thanet Way (A229) and the M2 — in addition to well-placed railway connections. The latter encompassed the long-standing routes to London via Faversham and Tonbridge, but also the 2007-opened HS1, upon which domestic services had commenced in 2009. Key to Manston Airport’s development was the provision of a Thanet Parkway station, which could tap into the high speed domestic services to London, but also provide a passenger railway link to Gatwick over upgraded infrastructure. The 2013 aviation report had remarked on the proposed station being a key driver to making Manston a more attractive choice for passengers, just like the positive effect the Metro rail had on the popularity of Newcastle Airport when a line to the latter was opened in 1991.

In May 2014, Manston Airport formally closed, reportedly after losses amounting to £10,000 daily (ref: BBC Kent News, 21st May 2014). In spite of this, it was not the end for the Thanet Parkway station concept and, on 22nd July of the same year, Kent County Council’s Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee formally supported making the scheme a reality, setting the ball rolling for land acquisition for the construction site. Two consultation periods followed, in 2015 and 2017, and the estimated station completion date was set for January 2019. Justification for a new station by this time was attributed much more to the general need to regenerate East Kent, the onset of new residential development, accessibility to the Discovery Park (Pfizer’s former pharmaceutical works at Sandwich), and improving links with London. The concept of an airport station had gone, although the proposed rail site’s proximity to Manston Airport was still mentioned as being advantageous, given that the gigantic area could potentially be redeveloped into something completely different, such as housing.

11th November 2023

It’s a rather Spartan scene all round at Thanet Parkway. A north eastern view towards Ramsgate shows both platforms lined at their rears by windowless dark grey windbreaks. Each platform is equipped with four glazed waiting shelters — the now familiar “Paragon Anti-Vandal” type — spaced at regular intervals. © David Glasspool

January 2019 came and went and, by November of that year, the project timeline had pushed the completion date back to 2022. Archaeological digs began at the proposed station site at Cliffsend in October 2020, and preparation works for construction started in January of the following year. The entire scheme was priced at £34.51 million (ref: Thanet Parkway Railway Station - Delivery, Kent County Council, 29th November 2019), provided through a combination of funding from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), the Government’s "Getting Building Fund" and "New Stations Fund", and Thanet District and Kent County Councils (ref: Thanet Parkway Station, Network Rail, August 2023). The cost of the project included upgrading the nearby Cliffsend Level Crossing, located about 320-metres (350-yards) north east of the station site, from half to full barriers. Completion of building works was estimated to happen in 2022, although the station was not expected to see its first passenger trains until the following year.

The original plans stipulated the platforms being linked by an enclosed footbridge encompassing lifts; however, a revised planning application submitted in November 2019 omitted the footbridge. Instead, a walking route between both sides of the station would be established using an existing farm track which passed under the railway through an arched bridge at this point, the latter being a feature of the line since the earliest years. The removal of the footbridge from the scheme was to reduce the visual impact of the new station on the landscape and it was also deemed that a subway would be easier for disabled passengers to use (ref: Kent County Council, Equality Analysis/Impact Assessment, Thanet Parkway, November 2019). The platforms would each still posses a lift shaft and stairs to link them to ground level.

11th November 2023

A Minster-bound view shows the now standard convention of ending platforms without gradual slopes to track level and, instead, installing secured staircases. Each platform is 250-metres (820-feet) in length, long enough to accommodate twelve-carriage trains. © David Glasspool

The contract for building Thanet Parkway station was awarded to "BAM Nuttall", the company of which worked in conjunction with Network Rail. Construction at the site began in 2021 and, by late May, the fields flanking the proposed station site had been turned over, huge mounds of earth formed, and the first signs of an entrance road had emerged. By December of the same year, the station’s infrastructure was well advanced: platforms, windbreaks, staircases, and lift towers were all in evidence. Based on your author’s observations, the station was virtually complete by January 2023; the contractor’s fencing and concrete blocks had yet to be removed, however. Your author recalls a proposed opening of the station for May 2023, coinciding with the start of the summer timetable. However, the first scheduled passenger services called at Thanet Parkway later, on 31st July 2023.

11th November 2023

The platforms’ entrances are located at the Ramsgate end of the layout and are marked here on either side by the mildly-angled roofs. 320-metres (350-yards) distant is Cliffsend Crossing, equipped with automatic lights and full barriers. © David Glasspool

11th November 2023

This view across the tracks to the Ramsgate-bound platform reinforces the functional theme at the station. The lightweight framework of the roof could be mistaken for scaffolding. © David Glasspool

11th November 2023

Looking in the opposite direction, this view depicts the covered waiting area atop the stairs, which serves the Minster-bound platform. The pink bricks mark the lift shaft. It must surely be a windswept area on those cold winter mornings. © David Glasspool