Thameslink Confirmed as Hammond Announces More Rail Spend

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Transport Secretary Philip Hammond revealed details today of a number of rail projects for which news had been missing since the Spending Review.

Most notable in the announcement was confirmation that Thameslink will indeed be completed in full as currently scoped, albeit with a slightly elongated delivery plan. The project will now be scheduled to complete in 2019 (by which point, cynics may point out, the originally titled “Thameslink 2000” project will only be a mere 19 years late).

In the wake of the earlier CSR announcement that not only confirmed Crossrail would proceed in full but also omitted any mention of Thameslink at all, many had feared the worst for the project. In recent years Thameslink has become more and more Crossrail’s slightly-less-fashionable brother, at least in terms of media perception. It’s an unfair image given the massive impact Thameslink has on travel both within London and without, but as a result rumbles about possible changes to Thameslink’s scope have existed for some time. In most cases, the much-needed-but-potentially-vulnerable upgrades to London Bridge station was considered most at risk.

Today’s announcement, however, appears to put that fear to rest – albeit at the cost of a slight increase in disruption due to the increased timescales.

Hammond’s statement also confirmed some Rolling Stock details that have been missing for sometime. The figure of “2,100 new carriages” will no doubt carry the headlines and be much quoted in the mainstream media. It is worth remembering, however, that this isn’t really news. Of that approximately 1,200 units will be the new Rolling Stock for Thameslink and 600 are for Crossrail, leaving a slightly less impressive 300 that are truly “new” (slightly more if you count cascades as well) – especially given that, as Informed Sources has consistently highlighted, it is now over 600 days since the last Rolling Stock order was placed.

It’s an improvement though nonetheless, and whilst full details on the allocation of these units have yet to be confirmed, the DfT have indicated that “subject to negotiations,” they are likely to manifest on services into Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, London Paddington and London Waterloo.

Thameslink’s current stock can also finally be cascaded elsewhere (the 319s are currently likely to head to Great Western and newly electrified lines in the north), although it should be remembered that this will not be for sometime. The tender for Thameslink’s new stock is now down to two – Bombardier and Siemens, with a decision likely early next year.

Overall, it is important to keep in mind the positives, and the confirmation that Thameslink will go ahead is most definitely a huge one. In addition, Hammond also confirmed a number of electrification schemes that will be of benefit to London and its surrounds – notably between London and Reading, Didcot, Newbury and Oxford all of which should be completed by 2016.

Given the potential for wholesale cuts, therefore, which had left many commentators (this author included) fearing the worst, today has represented another good day for London’s transport infrastructure. It is easy to pick at the details, but there are few who, pre-CSR, would have thought it likely that London would emerge with its Underground upgrades, Crossrail and the Thameslink project intact. Common sense, of course, indicated that they should all proceed, but it would not have been the first time that common sense had fallen victim to financial or political necessity.

So whilst it is easy to look upon today’s announcement as a re-announcement rather than an announcement – an exercise in confirming that which was already taking place – it is worth bearing in mind that this is ultimately very much a positive thing for the capital.

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.