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Network Rail defends Thameslink plan

Network Rail has denied that its plans for the Thameslink upgrade was too ambitious, despite the government announcing that it was delaying the project completion to reduce potential risks.

Transport secretary Philip Hammond gave the go-ahead to the complete £6bn upgrade of the north-south rail route through London last week. But he announced that the project would not be completed until December 2018, two years later than planned by the last government.

Hammond said that the original timescale for the rebuilding of London Bridge had been “ambitious” and had “substantial” risks around delivery.

The upgrade will double the capacity on the route, which runs from Bedford to Brighton, providing 24 trains per hour in both directions through the central London core section. A fleet of 1,200 new electric train carriages will be purchased as part of the upgrade.

The Department for Transport said that Network Rail would now be able to deliver the upgrade of London Bridge station in a more efficient manner, improving value for money. The redevelopment, known as key output 2, is crucial to increasing line capacity.

Network Rail said that it “wouldn’t have put forward a plan that wasn’t deliverable”.

“Doing this work over a longer period of time will mean that it’s less risky but I don’t think there was ever any great risk, on our side, about 2016 completion,” said a spokesman.

I don’t think there was ever any great risk on our side”

Network Rail spokesman

Network Rail is now working on the design for the redevelopment of London Bridge, ahead of publishing the plans for planning in the next few weeks.

Alongside the go-ahead for the Thameslink project, a £900M railway electrification programme was announced by Hammond - but some electrification schemes remain in the balance.

The electrification of the Great Western mainline, and lines between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool, was announced by Hammond’s predecessor Lord Adonis in July 2009. Hammond has now committed to the electrification in the north of England, but only confirmed Great Western electrification between London and Reading and Oxford.

He has said that an announcement on the rest of the line, including to Cardiff and Bristol, will come in the New Year when a decision on a new fleet of intercity trains is also taken.

The first stage of the Great Western electrification is expected to cost up to £600M, and the package in the north west will cost up to £300M. Work will start next year, and be complete in 2016.

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