A major (and severely delayed) upgrade to Thameslink, the north-south rail link through London. More destinations will be served and there will be a higher frequency.
The original name of the Thameslink Programme was Thameslink 2000. Intended to be delivered by 2000, it has slipped back constantly and could now no longer be completed before 2012, with construction work commencing in 2007.
A public inquiry into the scheme ran from September to December 2005.
Thameslink was an inspired plan to reinstate passenger services to a route which had fallen into neglect and had not carried passengers since 1916.
Since reopening in 1988, Thameslink has fast become incredibly popular and busy. In 2001-2003, 41.1 million passenger journeys were made (source: SRA annual report, 2001-2002). Thameslink is one of a few train operating companies who pay a dividend back to the government rather than receiving a subsidy.
All this is from the single rather overcrowded route between Bedford and Brighton, with more local trains running between Luton and Wimbledon/Sutton.
In order to both capitalise on the success of Thameslink and to improve capacity and relieve overcrowding, an improved signalling system with better stations, improved junctions and a wider variety of destinations is proposed (see diagram right).
St. Pancras Midland Road
Thankfully, although the main project is delayed (mostly due to a rather controversial proposal at London Bridge which involves demolishing part of the historic Borough Market), one key part of it is under construction. St Pancras Midland Road is a new station to replace the existing King's Cross Thameslink, a woefully inadequate station to suit the demands placed upon it. The new station is being constructed as part of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link works to build St. Pancras International station.
The CTRL project is also providing the new "Canal Tunnels", the basis for the link from St Pancras Midland Road to the Great Northern lines out of King's Cross. The Thameslink Programme will lay its infrastructure in the tunnels provided.
The majority of First Capital Connect services from King's Lynn, Cambridge and Peterborough which currently serve King's Cross, would be diverted onto Thameslink, serving St Pancras Midland Rd, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars and various destinations beyong. This should reduce the need for many passengers from these services to change to the Underground here, thus reducing some pressure on King's Cross St Pancras Underground station.
Returning to the plans still on the drawing board, a new link will be constructed just north of St Pancras, to enable Thameslink trains to serve Peterborough and King's Lynn on the Great Northern network. In the south, existing links make serving new destinations very easy, although since many routes are already at capacity, this will probably mean diversion of some existing trains onto Thameslink once they arrive in Central London.
The new southern destinations include the following:
Campaign group Railfuture are concerned that the large number of destinations will lead to high unreliability as trains can get delayed at many different points on the network.
A very under-publicised fact is that extension of the platforms at Farringdon means that the branch to Barbican and Moorgate will be cut off. This is considered to be inconsequential as ridership to Moorgate is vastly eclipsed by ridership on the network as a whole. Moorgate passengers will be expected to change at Farringdon. This is opposed by the Corporation of London.
Under the Thameslink Programme there will be 8 service patterns - essentially "lines" on the Thameslink network. These are as follows.
Expansion at Farringdon (Source: Network Rail)
In addition to the new station at St Pancras, improvements would be made at Farringdon, involving pedestrianisation of the Cowcross St bridge and a new ticket hall and entrance. Thameslink Programme works would be completed just before Crossrail, and work at Farringdon could be carried out jointly between the two projects.
Redesigned building at Blackfriars on Queen Victoria St (Source: Network Rail)
New entrance on the South Bank to Blackfriars (Source: Network Rail)
At Blackfriars, the station layout would be completely altered. The current 3 terminating platforms for South Eastern services on the east side of the station would be replaced by 2 platforms on the west side where Thameslink has its platforms now, and the Thameslink line would slew across from the tunnel entrance at the north end to new platforms extending across the bridge itself. These platforms would make use of the old bridge piers next to the current bridge.
A new entrance on the South Bank would serve the southern end of the extended platforms, as well as expanding Blackfriars' catchment area to Southwark.
The current office building on top of Blackfriars would be demolished and replaced.
The Queen Victoria Street ticket hall would be combined into an integrated Underground and rail ticket hall, and subway access to the station would be closed. A new pedestrian footbridge across Queen Victoria Street would provide direct access to the Thameslink platforms.
Redesigning London Bridge allows for a new pedestrian approach to the station. [Network Rail]
London Bridge would get an impressive new entrance on Tooley Street [Network Rail]
London Bridge would be largely rebuilt under what is known as the "Masterplan". This involves increasing the number of through platforms from 6 to 9, and decreasing the number of terminating platforms from 9 to 6.
This means that in an average morning peak hour, the following changes will occur:
A new bus station will also be provided as part of the redevelopment of London Bridge.
With the diversion of a large number of WAGN King's Cross trains, a higher frequency will be introduced on the core section. In fact, where current frequency is 8 trains per hour between King's Cross and Blackfriars, this will be tripled to 24 trains per hour under the Thameslink Programme.
However, some stations could experience problems with new services. Stations at Kentish Town, Hendon, Cricklewood and Radlett will not be lengthened as part of the project and will therefore only be able to accept 8-car trains. With 12-car working across the network, only particular services will be able to stop at these stations - which could mean no frequency improvement, or at worst, a frequency decrease.
Four large pieces of engineering are required to deliver the Thameslink Programme.
These have already been mentioned, and are being constructed as part of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Track will be laid in them as part of the Thameslink Programme, providing a new link between the Great Northern line and Thameslink, and allowing for the diversion of many GN services onto Thameslink.
At present, Thameslink services share a two-track railway between Borough Market Junction (above the historic market, where trains to Cannon St turn north) and London Bridge station with all South Eastern Trains services into Charing Cross. This is one of the biggest bottlenecks on the entire national network and no capacity increase can be achieved without major construction.
Therefore the (controversial) solution is a new viaduct to the south of the existing one, between London Bridge station and Southwark Street. The new viaduct will carry services into Charing Cross, and the old viaduct will be dedicated to Thameslink services into London Bridge.
This eliminates any movements "on the flat" where Thameslink trains heading north to Blackfriars would block South Eastern services leaving Waterloo East.
This increases capacity dramatically but requires demolition of a number of buildings and poses problems to the listed Borough Market.
Borough Market: Alternative proposal
An alternative proposal has been made by Lambeth council which envisages a service concentrating more on inner-city and suburban services, rather than longer-distance commuter belt services. Their proposal would see many more trains routed via Elephant & Castle (instead of London Bridge), which would avoid the need to build a new viaduct into London Bridge and this avoid demolition of parts of Borough.
Lambeth's scheme would involve new stations at Southwark (Jubilee line interchange), Camberwell and Walworth.
Just east of Rotherhithe New Road, services to the east (Kent) via Greenwich or New Cross, and to the south (Brighton) via New Cross Gate, converge at a flat junction. This causes operational problems and limits capacity into London Bridge.
A two-track dive-under will be constructed for country-bound services to access the Brighton route without obstructing city-bound services from Kent. This will also enable city-bound Brighton Thameslink services to approach London Bridge on the northern side of the viaduct.
The result is that all services approaching London Bridge are lined up for their destinations beyond London Bridge - Cannon St and Thameslink services on the north side, Charing Cross services in the middle and services terminating at London Bridge on the south side of the viaduct.
Tanners Hill (St John's) fly-down
A section of new track will be provided between Tanners Hill Junction (where the line from Peckham and Victoria to Lewisham meets the line from London bridge) and Lewisham to improve line capacity on this section.
Platform extensions would be carried out at a number of stations to allow them to take the 12-car trains planned as part of the Thameslink Programme. However, as mentioned previously, not all stations are having their platforms lengthened.
Problems and costs
The huge problem with the Thameslink Programme is the cost which is now estimated at around £3bn. This is mainly due to the cost of rebuilding Blackfriars station and the new viaduct north of London Bridge to increase capacity.
Railfuture are concerned over a number of issues. The problems at 8-car stations have already been mentioned, as have reliability concerns; however they are also concerned that the overall capacity planned will not be enough as a significant amount of traffic will be generated by the improvements to Thameslink.
Engineering works & construction
Closures of the central section for engineering are commonplace
Since improving Thameslink involves a signalling upgrade, closures of the central section would probably be commonplace at weekends as they were for the first phase of construction of the new St Pancras Thameslink station.
Work at Blackfriars would take some 30 months to finish, as a complete remodelling of the station is required. Once this work is complete (2008 on the current timetable), work at Farringdon would commence, and the Moorgate branch would be closed, with the trains that used it being diverted to Blackfriars instead to use the new facilities there.
Construction at London Bridge would last for the entire length of the project (five years), although the most major works would not be carried out at the same time as any major Blackfriars works. Borough Viaduct works would be carried out early, and the new through platforms at London Bridge would be ready in 2009.
The Government has granted planning permission and legal powers under the Transport and Works Act to Network Rail to progress the Thameslink Programme, with the only remaining obstacle being a funding agreement. The enhanced route could be operational in seven years, with the ability to pause construction during the Olympics.
Network Rail have asked the Office of Rail Regulation for an additional £7.9bn of funding for the period 2009-2014, £3.5bn of which would be used to fund the long-awaited Thameslink Programme.
First Group have been awarded the new combined Thameslink & Great Northern franchise, which covers services intended to be run as part of Thameslink 2000. First will rename the franchise "First Capital Connect", and plan to rewrite timetables to introduce an extra 10,000 seats in the peak hours, mainly for passengers north of the river, where it says services are most crowded. The new franchise starts on 1 April 2006.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will revive the heavily-delayed Thameslink 2000 scheme this year in order to support growth in corridors in the South East. This September will see the re-opening of the public inquiry into the scheme, following the resolution of issues raised at the last inquiry.
The business organisation London First has said that it would rather see money being spent on schemes like the Thameslink 2000 than the congestion charge extension.
Thameslink 2000 was not mentioned at all in Tuesday's white paper by the Department for Transport, "The Future of Transport" - leading to fears that it may fall by the wayside whilst the £10bn Crossrail project is taken forward.
Commuters using Radlett station are concerned that proposed upgrades to Thameslink - which involve extending some station platforms to take 12-car trains for fast services to London - will miss out Radlett, leaving it with an all-stations 8-car train service. However, the SRA says that the slower service will be more regular.
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