The Tonbridge & District Railway Travellers’ Association was inaugurated in February 1959. This was the twilight of the steam era and a time when diesel trains on the Hastings Line seemed revolutionary. The objective was (and remains to this day) to campaign for improvements to Tonbridge, Paddock Wood and Hildenborough train services, and to represent the interests of travellers using these stations. The principal issues in 1959 were lateness and overcrowding. Safety was also an issue following the 1957 Lewisham train crash and the 1967 Hither Green derailment.
The 1962 electrification gave Tonbridge, Paddock Wood and Hildenborough for the first time, a regular interval timetable throughout the week between London and the Kent Coast thus attracting new commuters, especially as Tonbridge and its surrounding areas expanded through the construction of large housing developments
Overcrowding therefore remained a serious problem for a long time. Over the ensuing decades, the train frequency has improved and we now attract members from within a radius of some 15 miles, including Kings Hill and West Malling, Crowborough, and the Staplehurst areas.
We have successfully protested against some serious threats, such as a proposal to switch Charing Cross trains to Victoria. More recently we have moved the emphasis to fares, timetabling, service reliability, and passenger comfort and convenience.
Current issues being tackled are the need for better services on the Tonbridge to Redhill line (since the withdrawal of the direct trains to Gatwick Airport and now the threat to make the line a shuttle service), the lack of Eurostar stops at Ashford, and excessive fare increases in recent years (in part to help pay for the high-speed service from St Pancras to Ashford, which brings little benefit to passengers on our line). We also monitor the growth of the commuter population in our area and press for measures to prevent more overcrowding.
Since 1959, membership has grown and declined over the years, but the Association can still claim to be the largest rail user organisation in South East England.
Although now known as ‘Tonbridge Line Commuters’, or ‘TLC’ for short, the group does not confine its watching brief to commuters only, but is geared to speak up for all rail users. TLC also works to improve the means by which passengers get to and from stations, whether by bus, car or cycle, and their facilities once there.
All Officers and Committee members are volunteers, and we can boast a blend of experience and enthusiasm. As a volunteer organisation, we are always looking for new members to join our committee.
Membership costs £4 per annum and includes a subscription to “Travel Topics”, which is TLC’s very own newsletter produced twice a year. These newsletters give details of current issues and action taken. An Annual General Meeting is held in April or May each year to which representatives from the railway industry are invited to speak and answer questions. In between AGMs there are regular Committee meetings. The Committee also has regular contact with railway managers to resolve issues.
Although strictly non-political, we have a good relationship with Tonbridge and Malling Council and also maintain close contact with MPs and local authorities.