More delays for Thameslink project

FCC new 12-carriage trains launch

FCC new 12-carriage trains launch - Credit: Archant

DELAYS in awarding a contract for new trains could stall a long-awaited upgrade to the Thameslink line which runs through St Albans, Harpenden and Radlett.

It follows a three-year delay in signing a contract with a German company for new trains to run from Bedford through to Brighton.

The National Audit Office this week voiced its concerns that the delay could impact significantly on the rest of the Thameslink Programme to improve the line with longer trains and platforms in a bid to reduce congestion.

Questions are now being asked about whether or not the Thameslink project will be completed by its 2018 deadline.

Thameslink services have consistently been among the most crowded London routes with passengers unhappy about the overcrowding on trains, particularly at peak periods. Use of the line is expected to increase in future years.

The contract hit the headlines three years ago when Siemens was chosen to supply the trains ahead of Derby-based Bombardier Transportation.

Now the National Audit Office is concerned that the delay in signing the contract with Siemens means that delivering value for money from the Thameslink programme as a whole is at greater risk than would have been expected at this stage.

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At 2006 prices, the cost of the Thameslink Programme runs to over 3.5 billion and while the first stage of the current project – which was originally called Thameslink 2000 but never got close to meeting its new millennium deadline – has been delivered on time and below budget, there are serious doubts about the second phase.

The National Audit Office accepts there is a, “complex interaction between completing the infrastructure project, buying new trains and letting a new franchise” but the three-plus years delay in the contract to purchase new trains, has implications for the rest of the programme and also plans for electrification of other parts of the network.

It questions whether the Department for Transport underestimated the scale of the work, time and skills and resources it needed to negotiate a Private Finance Initiation (PFI) of such complexity.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said this week: “It’s too early in the Thameslink Programme to conclude on whether or not it will achieve value for money. That will have to wait until the new service is running.

“However, there has been good progress in delivering the first stage of the infrastructure part of the programme on time and under budget, which the Department now needs to build on.”

He added: “Our principal concern is around the delay in agreeing the contract to build new trains which raises questions about the feasibility of delivering the whole programme by 2018.”

Sandy Walkington, Lib Dem parliamentary hopeful for St Albans and newly-elected county councillor, said: “The whole thing has been a sad chapter. Some of us remember Thameslink 2000.

“The Department for Transport comes across as one of the least efficient government departments.”

He added: “First they announced cancellation of plans to convert the Abbey Flyer into a tram, now there is a probable further delay in Thameslink. One such announcement would be disappointing. To have two in such short succession is a kick in the teeth for St Albans commuters.”

n The annual meeting of the Association of Public Transport Users (APTU) on the Thameslink route is being held in St Albans on Monday. It is a chance to put questions directly to train operators First Capital Connect and Network Rail management.

The meeting is being held at 7.30pm at the Friends Meeting House in Upper Lattimore Road and while attendance is limited to members, anyone can join on the night at a cost of £3.