Network Rail has today (Tuesday January 8) committed to continuing the biggest investment in infrastructure since the Victorian era.
The idea is to reduce costs and deliver more passengers on time than ever before – but there’s also a warning that tough decisions need to be made if the industry is to meet these competing challenges.
Network Rail’s strategic business plans for the Kent and Sussex routes, which have been submitted to the Office of Rail Regulation, set out a number of proposals which, it says, will help drive the local, regional and national economy and help make Britain’s railway one of the most efficient in Europe.
A statement says that investment and improvements on both routes will contribute to Network Rail’s plan to enhance the capacity and capability of the railway in London and the south east and, working with all train operators on all routes into London, will aim to deliver 20 per cent more seats during peak morning hours.
In numbers that means there will be 539,300 seats into London across all routes during peak morning hours in 2014 but by 2019 there will be an extra 115,000, bringing the total up to 654,300.
Across London and the south east, more trains make more journeys than ever before on the network, putting an ever increasing pressure on the infrastructure.
In April 2004, Southeastern ran 45,653 services and in April 2012 it ran 51,358. First Capital Connect’s services increased from 25,284 over the same period to 28,758 and Southern’s services rose from 46,844 to 59,750.
The strategic business plans - one for each route - cover the period from 2014 to 2019 (known as control period 5 or CP5) and map out a programme of investment and projects designed to maintain and improve an ageing infrastructure while reducing the overall cost of running the rail network.
The statement adds that passengers on both Kent and Sussex routes will benefit from two of the biggest improvement projects ever seen on the railway in Britain - which will also be the largest investment during CP5.
More than £6bn will be spent on the Thameslink programme - which includes the redevelopment of London Bridge station, the single most ambitious and challenging redevelopment of any station in Britain. It is one of the most technically demanding engineering projects ever undertaken on the railway - the station will be completely transformed while more than 50m passengers continue to use it every year.
The improvements will not just deliver a bigger and better station - it will improve the capacity and reliability of services across the south east of England. Up to 24 trains an hour will be able to travel through central London, linking Bedford, Luton Airport, Peterborough and Cambridge with East Croydon, Gatwick Airport and Brighton.
The Thameslink programme, together with Crossrail, will deliver huge benefits to passengers when they are opened in 2018 increasing capacity and frequency of services across London.
Dave Ward, Network Rail’s route managing director for the south east, has warned that despite the large investment which will deliver significant benefits to passengers by the end of 2019, there will have to be trade-offs to achieve them.
He said: “The number of passengers using the railway continues to grow year on year. As the railway gets busier, the number of challenges increase and it becomes more complex than ever to run a reliable and cost-effective railway. As a result, we have entered an era of trade-offs. Increasingly we have to balance the need to build more infrastructure, run trains on time and reduce costs, and in many areas across Kent and Sussex difficult choices will need to be made.
“Billions of pounds are being invested in the Thameslink programme which includes the redevelopment of London Bridge station, which will deliver significant benefits for passengers. This will transform the railway for passengers across Kent and Sussex but the interim period while the work is taking place to complete these projects will provide many tests for passengers as well as Network Rail and the train operators. This is an example of the trade-offs that have to be made.
“The huge growth in the demand for rail services since privatisation is set to continue. As the network becomes increasingly full, particularly in peak periods, the rail industry must be able to make balanced and evidence-based choices between providing increased capacity, improving punctuality and driving down costs. The end result will be a better railway for everyone which will encourage continued economic growth across Kent, Sussex and Surrey.”
The stement says that the Sussex route strategic business plan will help deliver a more reliable railway to cope with the continued increase in passengers using the railway in Sussex and parts of Surrey.
The route is one of the main commuter routes in the south of England - passenger numbers have increased by around 40 per cent in the last 10 years and are forecast to grow by a further 30 per cent in the next 10 years.
To cater for this continued growth, a programme of improvements will be carried out between 2014 and 2019 on the Sussex route, including:
- track and signalling upgrades across the route to cope with the increase in trains and passengers
- a new £23m route operating centre at Three Bridges will become fully operational and provide a central signalling function for a large section of the railway across Kent and Sussex. As part of Network Rail’s modernisation of the country’s signalling system, it will contribute to saving £250m annually in signalling costs across the network
- a power upgrade will take place to ensure longer trains, providing more capacity and more seats, can be used across the route
- work to allow longer trains to operate north of Purley and on the west London line will be completed
- Redhill station, a major interchange on the Brighton mainline, will have a new platform built to improve performance and allow for additional services to run
As part of the redevelopment of London Bridge station, Thameslink services which run through the centre of London will be diverted away from London Bridge between 2014 and 2017, running instead via Elephant and Castle. To prepare for this, £8m will be spent in the area to increase the resilience of the infrastructure to cope with the additional trains.
Both Kent and Sussex routes will invest in protecting critical infrastructure - such as embankment and cuttings stabilisation and drainage - to help minimise the level of disruption due to severe weather events and to mitigate against the effects of extreme weather, including flooding, on the railway.
In addition to improving the reliability of the infrastructure, work will continue to take place with train operators and stakeholders to identify opportunities for journey time reductions and timetable improvements to further improve services for passengers.
Further work will be carried out to reduce level crossing risk by seeking to close or divert level crossings wherever possible.
There will also be an increase in engagement with level crossing users and line side neighbours to help reduce incidents of misuse.