Work on the Thameslink rail project (formerly Thameslink 2000) finally began in Luton this week. Major work around Blackfriars and Borough Market will begin in early 2009.
Three months after transport secretary Ruth Kelly confirmed funding for the £5.5 billion upgrade to the north-south rail link through London, work began this week on the first element of the scheme at Luton Airport Parkway station.
"Today is the start of a long-sought after scheme which will deliver what passengers need; more seats, less crowding, more direct services and better connections in London," says Andrew Mitchell, Network Rail's Thameslink programme director.
In our part of London the scheme involves the construction of a new entrance to Blackfriars station on Bankside close to Tate Modern, and – most controversially – a new viaduct above Borough Market. London Bridge Station will also be rebuilt.
By the end of 2011 Blackfriars station be able to handle 12 car trains for the first time. The station also becomes the first to span the Thames, with a new roof over the entire platform length and a new entrance on Bankside providing access to the Tate Modern and the surrounding area.
Major work at Blackfriars will begin in January 2009, but the riverside walkway under Blackfriars Railway Bridge will be closed from Summer 2008, requiring visitors and locals out for a stroll along the South Bank and Bankside to take a detour via Southwark Street and Hopton Street. The riverside walkway will be rebuilt as part of the works.
At the moment Borough Market is a notorious rail bottleneck, with all trains between Charing Cross and London Bridge as well as Thameslink trains between Blackfriars and London Bridge having to share a single track in each direction.
The Department for Transport has requested that Network Rail carries out the work on Borough viaduct during the first phase of the Thameslink programme – ie before the 2012 Olympic Games. Some preliminary works around the market will begin in 2008, with the main work starting January 2009 and due for completion by the end of 2011.
Speaking on Tuesday in the House of Commons, Mr Hughes said that whilst Thameslink is a good idea in principle, "We have had the mother and father of battles south of the river to ensure that the Thameslink proposal ... did not have a major destructive impact on the area around Borough Market in my constituency, which is a conservation area and an historic part of central London."
"I am still not convinced that what is proposed will satisfy the double requirement of the national interest and the local one."
The works at London Bridge are extensive with a completely new station and track layout planned. This will be delivered in phases, keeping the station operational throughout construction.
Network Rail said this week that the track layout work at London Bridge will begin after the Olympics and is planned to be completed by the end of 2015. Work to upgrade the passenger facilities may begin before the Olympics.