The shadow Strategic Rail Authority is supporting Railtrack's planning application for an £800M upgrade of core elements of its Thameslink line when it goes before a public inquiry next month.
The backing comes because of the extra capacity Thameslink 2000 will bring to the rail network in London and the South. Before underwriting the scheme though, the sSRA had to reach agreement with Railtrack over the scope and costs of the project.
Finance for the upgrade will be underpinned by revenue from extra track access charges. This will effectively be paid by train operating companies in exchange for the improved train paths created, underwritten in advance by the sSRA.
The sSRA has to be satisfied that Railtrack is able to deliver extra capacity as promised. It also needs to be reassured that passengers get value for money as they will bear the fare increases passed on to them by the train operating companies seeking to recover their costs. So it has commissioned a joint venture of consultants Babtie and the US Parsons Corporation to assist it in monitoring the project.
The brief is to go through Railtrack's designs and tender proposals to make sure that every penny of the planned £800M investment in new train paths and station capacity is justified.
It is important to the sSRA that Railtrack includes spending only on facilities required for the project and not costs for routine maintenance work. If this were to happen, Railtrack would effectively be charging twice for some work, as existing track access agreements should already cover this.
As the project has evolved, Babtie has had to monitor changes to original plans. 'If there are variations to the scope of the agreement, we have to check them to see if they conform to the sSRA's requirements, ' says Babtie technical director Richard Andrews.
Variations could include changes in train routes or alterations in the number of station platforms which need extending to accommodate trains planned to expand from eight to 12 cars.
Separating core Thameslink 2000 work from routine maintenance has been a tricky business, especially where upgrading has a knock-on effect on the rest of the existing network. Work to improve station compliance with emerging legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act is a case in point and Babtie has to advise its client on whether Railtrack would have had to carry out this investment whether Thameslink 2000 goes ahead or not.
'The role we've been allowed to play is wide ranging, ' says Babtie divisional director Richard Seeley. 'We go through a whole spectrum of work from engineering to planning and the Transport and Works application process. We also get involved in the operational aspects of the railway, costing exercises, train timetabling verification and looking at issues in respect of track access agreements. Work has also included examinations of the environmental statement and archaeological issues.'
Thameslink 2000 is a major upgrade of existing lines feeding through central London, connecting Brighton on the south coast with Bedford to the north, via Blackfriars and King Cross Thameslink stations.
When complete Railtrack will be able to operate 24 trains an hour through central London at peak times - three times the current number. Platforms at some stations will also be lengthened to accommodate 12 car trains.
The works include enhance-ment of London Bridge which will allow extra trains to operate into London at peak times.
Thameslink 2000 will also stretch north of London to include stations on the East Coast Main Line at Peterborough and Kings Lynn via Cambridge. To the south, the Thameslink network will be extended to take in the coastal towns of Eastbourne and Littlehampton, as well as Ashford and Dartford in Kent.