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Thameslink heads danger list

THAMESLINK 2000, Railtrack's £600M scheme to increase commuter routes through London, faces cancellation if the Channel Tunnel Rail Link does not go ahead.

Investment in Thameslink was primarily to take the 15,000 Kent rush hour commuters, expected to arrive at St Pancras on the CTRL track every day, onwards to their jobs in the City and the rest of London.

But if those people cannot be delivered, Railtrack has conceded, the Thameslink 2000 scheme may no longer be financially viable. 'We will have to have another look at it to see whether the numbers still stack up,' a Railtrack spokesman said on Tuesday.

Transport minister Glenda Jackson this week deferred a decision on whether to hold a public inquiry into the Thameslink 2000 project until 25 March. This was the direct result of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's statement to the Commons on the future of CTRL.

Railtrack is continuing to prequalify contractors for 11 design, manage and construct contracts along the Thameslink route, worth between £20M and £100M each. 'We are carrying on as normal until we know what is happening with CTRL,' said a spokesman.

But this move demonstrates how vital CTRL is to achieving the government's stated aim of encouraging south east commuters to switch from cars to rail travel as part of an integrated transport policy (see box). With the south east rail network approaching gridlock, CTRL would allow new commuter routes like Thameslink 2000 to free up existing capacity for extra trains.

Thameslink 2000 would mean up to 24 trains an hour could travel to destinations in the city from the south and north of the capital, from as far away as Eastbourne and Peterborough. The present congested network only allows for two trains an hour through the pinch point at London Bridge.

Construction of the Thameslink 2000 station box, connecting tunnels and King's Cross Underground improvements, were to be publicly funded as part of the CTRL advance works. A Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions spokesman this week confirmed: 'If CTRL does not go ahead we will have to look at how to deliver the box by other means.'

Estimated cost of this work is £300M - urgently needed as King's Cross, the intersection of four lines, is one of the most congested stations on the network. King's Cross Thameslink needs a new station as the existing platforms are too narrow. New generation Thameslink trains will also be too long for the plat-

forms.

But without the CTRL the station will be isolated in waste ground and likely to be in the wrong place.

Meanwhile, London Transport's rail planning manager David Warren this week said that cancellation of CTRL and Thameslink would put the £2.1bn CrossRail back at the top of the queue of rail projects in London.

The strategic Underground route linking Paddington with Liverpool Street is seen by LT as more vital than Thameslink or even CTRL. The Corporation of London is actively promoting the revival of the route now CTRL has hit trouble.

Jackie Whitelaw

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