Govia Thameslink opens Cricklewood sidings as part of plans to improve service to and from St Albans City station

A Thameslink service goes through the newly-installed train washing facilities at Cricklewood siding

A Thameslink service goes through the newly-installed train washing facilities at Cricklewood sidings - Credit: Archant

It is fair to say that Govia Thameslink does not always receive the best press in the local and national media.

In November of last year, the Herts Advertiser ran an investigation which revealed that service performance between St Albans and London was worse under Govia than the previous owners First Capital Connect.

Just a month later the company was under fire again for reducing festive cheer among travellers when a driver shortage caused numerous cancellations between Christmas and New Year.

But the train company wants to put all that behind it and look to the future.

One of the many branches of its forward planning is a new sidings near Cricklewood, which was officially opened last Friday, January 22.

The eight-track layout will allow Govia Thameslink to wash, clean and service all of its current stock of carriages.

But in keeping with the theme of what’s to come, the depot has actually been built to house a completely new set of trains due to make their debut this spring between St Albans and London.

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The city station is the company’s biggest footfall outside of the London conurbation and the new additions are strongly linked with improving the frequency of trains for commuters during the morning and evening rush hours.

The re-improvement will also include the introduction of a new fleet of Class 700 trains.

To put all of the proposed changes into perspective it is best to look at how the rail operator hopes to improve its service over the coming months and years.

Currently, all but two of Thameslink’s ‘fast’ trains between Harpenden and St Albans and London at peak time are just eight carriages long. The plan is to replace most of these with longer 12-carriage trains and – from 2018 – increase the number of peak trains as well.

Despite staying the same length, these trains will be able to carry more people and Thameslink has estimated these changes to mean 60% more carriages and 50% more seats,

Furthermore, a peak time rush hour service between St Albans and London with eight-carriages will hold 744 commuters, and if you’re one of the lucky passengers who welcomes one of those two 12-carriage services that currently operate from the station, you’ll be on a train that can carry 1,110 seated and standing travellers.

The new eight car Class 700 train will have enough room for 1,140 seated and standing passengers and a full-length twelve coach service will be able to take 1,750 commuters to and from work each day.

So, the length of the new train is the same as the old, yet there will be more room. How? It is all to do with space utilisation.

For the first time a network rail commuter service will allow passengers to walk from one end of the train to the other thanks to wide walkways between carriages (much like the bendy bus services in London) and a two by two seat arrangement will provide more standing room.

Back in the sidings and its not hard to see how the new yard fits in to all of the prospective plans.

The huge facility, built on a previous obsolete section of track, can accommodate up to 22 trains at one time and will have the purpose of allowing staff to clean and service the trains as quickly and as regularly as possible. The company estimates that by 2018 its workers will be removing up to one tonne of waste from its trains every day.

A newly built state of the art train wash, which guests including MP for Hendon Matthew Offord had the chance to experience during the launch event, will need to just 6 minutes to wash one of the brand new 12-carriage 240m long trains,

Keith Wallace, Projects Director at Govia Thameslink, said: “These sidings are a crucial part of our plans to modernise Thameslink services to give our passengers new, spacious trains starting this spring and, from 2018, more frequent services at all our stations between Bedford and London.”

“Everything the Thameslink Programme does is about improving journeys for passengers and this new facility will make a real difference,” added Programme director Simon Blanchflower.

“We have turned a disused piece of railway land into a first-class railway facility that will play a crucial part in what will be one of the country’s most intensive main line train services.”

That, at the moment, certainly seems to be the case and it was hard to not be impressed with the job that Carillion Rail, Network Rail’s largest contractor, had done with the site at Cricklewood last week when the ribbon was cut.

If Thameslink’s proposed timetable for all their improvements doesn’t hit the buffers, then regular commuters in and out of St Albans may finally have a train journey service they can get on board with easier. Hopefully literally.