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Concerns over costs and delays spark Thameslink cutback fears

Network Rail’s £5.5bn Thameslink upgrade faces the prospect of cuts to beat time and cost overruns, sources close to the project said this week.

There are fears that the landmark glass roof for the £350M Blackfriars station revamp could be axed, although this has been denied by Network Rail. NCE understands that the upgrade is already experiencing delays and cost increases, three months after the main construction phase began.

The Thameslink project will increase capacity from seven to 24 trains per hour through central London via London Bridge and St Pancras stations.

Most of the capital spend is focused on an 8km section running south of Farringdon station. Overall, the scheme will provide 20,000 extra peak hour seats on trains running into St Pancras.

Cutback fears

But fears have been raised that cost and time issues could lead to cutbacks that would limit the capacity increases.

A rail expert at one major consultant told NCE: “The project is over budget already, therefore there is talk of curtailing spending to achieve the total programme − I suspect there are plans to change the scope, which clearly would impact on capacity.”

The Department for Transport has made it clear that there would be no more money available on top of the £5.5bn it has already allocated.

“We fully expect Network Rail to deliver its programme within the set budget,” said a spokesman.

Blackfriars under threat

One of the most challenging parts of the programme is the £350M Blackfriars station upgrade to make it the first London station to straddle the River Thames. This will enable it to accommodate 12-car trains by 2011.

Sources this week told NCE that there is talk that the station could be hit hard by cuts to save the programme, with the potential landmark glass roof planned along the platforms across the river being scrapped.

“It’s not about changing the project but about getting there for less money.”

Nigel Yarwood, Tony Gee and Partners

Scheme designer Tony Gee and Partners executive director for rail Nigel Yarwood played down the concerns. “It’s not about changing the project but about getting there for less money,” he said.

A Network Rail spokesman dismissed the suggestion as a rumour, adding that it intended to progress the “modern glass roof design that incorporates the use of PV [photovoltaic] cells”.

By the end of 2015 Thameslink should be able to run one train through central London every two to three minutes. But one engineer with close ties to the scheme said it was known to be “tight on programme”.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Project is meant to end in 2011 and apparently its already outside the original £350m budget???? This cant be surely. I would like to know where NCE get there inside info from - surely this is just a rumour, welll you would like to think so anyway.

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