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THE CTRL could play an important part in the development of a nationwide freight and public transport strategy, according to supporters of the link. Without it, government's plans for the increased use of the rail network by people and freight could suffer, particularly in the busy south east.

CTRL would help provide the capacity for increased commuter links from Kent. Train paths into the traditional Kent terminals face capacity problems and pressure from freight operators and Eurostar trains to use the existing line could limit rather than expand the train services available to commuters.

Construction of the new line would link Scotland and the North directly to the Channel Tunnel and from there to France, no longer isolating them from continental Europe. The plan is to construct a section of rail that allows Eurostar to bypass the St Pancras terminus and link instead to the West Coast Main Line.

A connection to the CTRL line from the Gravesend and Medway town railways would take 15,000 commuters at peak time straight to Kings Cross, avoiding London bridge. Ashford commuters could also use the high speed line. This would free up capacity on the south east network for new train paths, including an increase in Thameslink services to Croydon and south west London, and new services to the south coast.

The potential for increased rail freight to the Channel Tunnel is equally promising. Lightweight freight could use the CTRL line itself. Heavier freight from all over the country could wind its way round London and take up some of the released train paths on the south east lines. At the moment congestion means there is limited opportunity to expand freight movements.

'Freight services are really taking off,' said Kent County Council transport policy manager Mick Sutch. 'And we are looking at a 20% increase year on year. But there is a real capacity issue. Everyone agrees with the idea of switching freight from road to rail, but you need the rail to run it on.'

CTRL construction would also alleviate problems on the section of track between Ashford and the Channel Tunnel which is undermining the perceived efficiency of the railway.

This is single track each way, with no diversion route available. Commuter trains, freight wagons and the Eurostars are regularly halted by anything from technical problems to emus on the line.

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