The £800m Thameslink 2000 scheme will transform services across the whole of the south-east of the UK when it is complete, expected to be 2006. It requires upgrading most of the principal commuter routes feeding into London, the country’s largest city.

However, January 2003 saw the project stalled after the Government rejected Railtrack’s (now Network Rail’s) plans to upgrade the cross-London route. NR and the Strategic Rail Authority now have to go back to the drawing board to develop new plans, a process that could put the project back by several years.

The current Thameslink service is a relatively new train service, created when direct services began running through the short Snow Hill tunnel, linking Farringdon with Holborn Viaduct under central London, which had been disused for more than 50 years.

It created through-journey opportunities between Bedford and Brighton and serves two major airports at Luton and Gatwick. Services began in 1988 and, in 1997 under British Rail privatisation, were franchised to a consortium comprising British bus and train operator Go-Ahead and French counterpart Via-GTI.

Thameslink 2000 project

Thameslink’s 15% annual business growth has made expansion a priority. Thameslink 2000 envisages new through services using Snow Hill tunnel northwards to Peterborough, Cambridge and Kings Lynn, and south of the Thames, to Guildford, Eastbourne, Ashford and Dartford, increasing the number of stations Thameslink serves from 50 to 169.

New lines and improved junctions would allow Thameslink trains access to the Great Northern lines out of King’s Cross and increase capacity at some of the capital’s busiest junctions.

Thameslink stations and track

The major constraint on the large-scale expansion of Thameslink is the lack of space to lay new tracks. The major bottleneck is in the London Bridge area, where trains share the route with very frequent services from London to Kent, Surrey and Sussex. The number of through platforms will be increased from six to nine.

There will also be major changes at two other central London Thameslink stations, Blackfriars and Farringdon. At the former, two terminus platforms will be closed and the lines connected with the existing two tracks used by Thameslink services.

Railtrack’s plans also envisaged the extension of the platforms at Blackfriars across the River Thames bridge with glass canopies providing shelter and new access on the south side of the river. However, these plans are among the most controversial because of the effect on the celebrated views along the River Thames.

Farringdon station, which is shared with London Transport’s Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan underground lines, will see its platforms extended in length by 50% for 12-coach trains.

King’s Cross Thameslink station will be replaced by a new interchange under St Pancras station. Suburban stations and power supply systems will also be extended and upgraded.

Rolling stock

Thameslink has a franchise to operate a fleet of 88 dual-voltage four-car Class 319 electric multiple units. They operate on 25kV AC overhead power north of Farringdon, from where they switch to 750V DC third rail operation. Built between 1987 and 1988 by BREL (later Adtranz and now Bombardier), they seat between 284 and 314 passengers, depending on layout.

Each four-car set is powered by four GEC traction motors and can reach 100mph. Power-operated sliding double doors (four sets per car, two each side), can be passenger-operated from inside or outside the train when unlocked by the driver. Most trains are driver-only operated.

Signalling and communications

Four-aspect colour light signals control the vast majority of Thameslink’s network, although three-aspect signals are found on some lighter-used and outlying tracks.

The trains are fitted with the Advanced Warning System (AWS), sounding an alert in the driver’s cab on passing a signal which must be cancelled within three seconds otherwise brakes are automatically applied.

Thameslink was also chosen for trials of the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS), which stops trains which are travelling too fast or pass red signals. The operator was the first to fit its entire fleet with the safety system, which is proving to be very successful in reducing potentially disastrous Signal Passed At Danger (SPAD) incidents.

Drivers can communicate with passengers through the train’s PA system and trains also have LED displays in each carriage which usually show the train’s destination and stopping pattern.

However, if and when Thameslink 2000 goes ahead new dual-voltage stock will be required to provide the much-enhanced service and train builders are already keen to promote the dual-voltage capabilities of trains such as the Bombardier Electrostar and Siemens Desiro UK.

The future

When the network is in place, the Thameslink franchise is likely to be offered for renegotiation. A public inquiry was held into the overall plans, as they involve some drastic redevelopment in sensitive business and residential areas.

A public inquiry, begun in June 2000, to decide upon the project reported its findings on 30 July 2002. The recommendations made then sat with the government for several months until the scheme was eventually rejected.

Redevelopment of London Bridge station, the Borough Market area and Blackfriars were highlighted as reasons why the scheme was thrown out.

No date has been given for when the much-needed improvements may now take place, although some commentators are now saying that it may be 2010 before the enhanced service can be introduced.