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12 December 2011
The transformation of rail travel in London came a step closer this morning when the first longer, 12-carriage train began its journey from Bedford to Brighton just before 7am.
By 9:25am, when it arrived at its destination at Brighton, it had passed the longer platforms, new signals and upgraded power facilities, all provided by Network Rail as part of the Thameslink programme to allow longer, more frequent trains to use the route.
To make this possible, Network Rail has lengthened platforms at 14 stations across the route. That's an additional 4km of extra platform and carriage space, twice the length of Luton Airport runway, or 34 football pitches laid end-to-end. More than 160km of new power cable has been laid to provide the power demanded by longer trains, and signalling systems along the route and through central London have been upgraded and replaced. The vast majority of this work has been completed overnight and at weekends to reduce disruption to passengers.
The improvements were not limited to the longer, less crowded trains. At Farringdon station a new spacious ticket hall came into use this morning. At 1,600 square metres – the equivalent of six double tennis courts – this spacious hall will provide the additional capacity that will be required, not only for the longer, more frequent services made possible by the Thameslink programme but also future Crossrail services. Farringdon is now set to be transformed into London's newest transport hub. From 2018 Thameslink, Crossrail and London Underground services will meet to provide over 140 trains an hour.
At Blackfriars, passengers also saw improvements, with a new station entrance to the north. This follows from the new southern entrance that opened last Monday, allowing passengers direct access to the South Bank and Bankside for the first time in 125 years.
Jim Crawford, Network Rail major programme director for the Thameslink Programme, said: “The pace of improvement for passengers as a result of the Thameslink Programme is really picking up now. For four years we have been working intensively behind the scenes to get this work done and its great to see the plans coming together to deliver real benefits.”
This is set to continue, with refurbished underground stations reopening at both Blackfriars and Farringdon in February and the completion of the major National Rail stations on both sites in time for the Olympics next year.
First Capital Connect operates the train service on the Thameslink route. Managing director Neal Lawson said: "Passengers with First Capital Connect need more space on trains to and from the capital and we're working hard to ensure the Thameslink Programme achieves just that. Since 2006 we've added almost a third more rush hour seats to the route; today we've added 3,200 more. This, together with the new station facilities coming on line at Blackfriars, Farringdon and West Hampstead, will help improve our service still further.”
The Thameslink Programme will see longer trains and more frequent services on the route from Bedford to Brighton through central London. Alongside extensive resignalling, power upgrades and platform extensions along the route, the rebuild of Blackfriars station, improvements at Farringdon and the planned reconstruction of London Bridge, will combine in 2018 to provide a metro-style service through central London, with trains running every 2 ½ minutes.
Thameslink's countdown to completion
- Completion of first phase of major resignalling work across the route.
- Work begins to install 4,400 solar panels on the roof of Blackfriars, creating London's largest solar array
- Completion of the award of the three London Bridge Area Partnership contracts for the track, signalling and station redevelopment at London Bridge.
- The final platform extension is completed, allowing longer trains to call at stations along the route.
- First passengers use new Blackfriars entrance on the south bank of the Thames
- First 12-carriage Thameslink trains serve the route
- New northern entrance opens at Blackfriars
- New ticket hall comes into use at Farringdon
- New station for West Hampstead Thameslink opens
- New London Underground stations open at Blackfriars and Farringdon
- Completion of Key Output One, with major station upgrades and , capability for 12-carriage trains fully operational ahead of Olympic and Paralympic Games
- Commencement of Key Output Two works, focussed on redeveloping the station and railway at London Bridge.
- Completion of the Thameslink programme, allowing a more frequent (metro style) rail service to and through the capital.