Thursday 25 Aug 2016
Mark Carne comment: London Bridge station redevelopment
The railway network in the south of England is one of the most congested anywhere in Europe – as passengers know only too well as they stand on crowded commuter trains. In the last 20 years the number of people travelling on the rail network has doubled, and the rail network, our stations and our platforms are dealing with more passengers than they were ever designed for.
But, after decades of under investment, we are now spending record amounts in improving and upgrading the railway. Our ‘Railway Upgrade Plan’ represents the biggest investment programme in the railways since Victorian times. These huge projects take many years to plan and build and during this time the passengers often don't see the benefits – instead they see walls of wooden hoardings protecting construction sites, overcrowding on trains and platforms, delays and disruption.
A major part of the railway upgrade is the Thameslink Programme which, when complete in 2018, will transform north-south travel through London. Before work started, London Bridge station was so congested that Thameslink trains simply weren't able to call there during the morning and evening peaks, with trains instead diverted via Elephant and Castle.
The construction work to totally transform London Bridge station and improve the reliability of the approaching railway has been going on for four years. It is the most ambitious redevelopment of any London station in a generation and one of the most technically demanding projects ever undertaken on our railway. We are rebuilding Britain’s fourth busiest station – the tracks, the platforms and the infrastructure which enables trains to run – all the while keeping the station open and doing our best to keep passengers moving. I am extremely sorry that while doing this work there have been times when passengers have suffered frustrating delays. I know that the promises about tomorrow are of little consolation when performance isn’t good enough today.
I am pleased that, finally, some of the benefits of this project will be much more visible from next week. From this Monday we are opening two thirds of a brand new concourse, that will be the size of the pitch at Wembley once finished, making it much better for the 56 million passengers who use the station every year.
The station will blend twenty-first century engineering with Victorian heritage and architecture. It will be as transformative as King’s Cross and will become an iconic new station for London. Our team has worked enormously hard to make this possible – every night, every weekend, every bank holiday for years. They are proud of what they have built and I think they should be.
But more needs to be done to make journeys better for passengers; and the work doesn’t stop now. Over the next 18 months, the Thameslink Programme will continue to untangle the complex track layout approaching the station and, as a result, deliver more reliable, more frequent journeys through central London by the end of 2018.
The changes we are making will allow more and longer Thameslink trains to run every day – up to 24 trains an hour through the heart of the capital, with eight or 12 carriages, compared to just eight trains an hour before the work began. Further new trains will be introduced into passenger service over the next two years to deliver an 80% increase in the number of seats for passengers travelling across central London.
The changes being made will offer passengers better connections than ever before to and through London, Gatwick and Luton airports and beyond, from Brighton to Peterborough and Cambridge.
In addition, the line connects with London’s newest transport hub at Farringdon – where Crossrail and Thameslink will eventually meet – offering improved and faster connections to Heathrow, Canary Wharf and the West End.
This is important for passengers and the economy. Britain’s railway is central to making the country run, underpinning jobs, driving economic growth and delivering cleaner and safer travel. More than four million journeys a day are taken by people to work, study or visit friends and family – the majority of these journeys going through, to or from the capital.
I am pleased we can begin to show you these improvements. This is by no means the end of the work to upgrade the railway; much more must be done. It is, however, a big step towards the bigger, better railway passengers deserve.
Mark Carne is chief executive of Network Rail which owns and operates Britain’s railway infrastructure – the tracks, signals and busiest stations in the country.
An abridged version was first published in the Evening Standard on 25 August 2016.
About Network Rail
Network Rail owns, manages and develops Britain's railway - the 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations (the largest of which we also run). In partnership with train operators we help people take more than 1.65bn journeys by rail every year and move hundreds of millions of tonnes of freight, saving almost 8m lorry journeys. We employ 38,000 people across Britain and work round-the-clock, each and every day, to provide a safe, reliable railway.
About the Railway Upgrade Plan
The Railway Upgrade Plan is Network Rail's investment plan for Britain's railways. It makes up two-thirds of Network Rail's £40bn spending priorities for the five years to 2019 and represents the biggest sustained programme of rail modernisation since the Victoria era. It is designed to provide more capacity, relieve crowding and respond to the tremendous growth Britain's railways continue to experience; passenger numbers have doubled in the past 20 years and are set to double again over the next 25 years - so we need to continue to invest in building a bigger, better railway. For passengers, that means:
- longer, faster more frequent trains;
- better, more reliable infrastructure; and
- better facilities for passengers, especially at stations.