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NAO: Rail network ‘cannot reliably support’ new Thameslink services

The current state of the rail network is not fit to support the new Thameslink Programme and will cause future delays and problems.

It has been revealed – following an investigation from the National Audit Office (NAO) – that Network Rail and the DfT “did not initially make adequate arrangements” to support the introduction of new services.

Between July 2015 and March this year, for example, 13% of all cancellations and delays of more than 30 minutes on the franchise have been due to failure of track and other Network Rail assets, such as signalling systems. In 2016, the infrastructure owner said a £900m investment in maintenance and renewal work was needed to achieve the resilience required to run the new services on the Thameslink network reliably – in addition to the investments already planned.

The roll-out of the new trains is also running behind schedule, although efforts are being made to mitigate this.

Siemens originally had issues finalising the on-board software for the fleet, which then delayed GTR’s acceptance of the first train by three months after the original planned deadline. More technical issues also emerged once the trains were brought into service.

But Siemens has made sufficient progress to address these issues, meaning that by December this year the company is expected to have caught up to its original schedule, effectively making up for lost time.

Ultimately, however, the £7bn programme would need a high degree of cooperation across the rail industry to fix issues, said the NAO.

“The wider rail network cannot yet reliably support the Thameslink programme’s new services,” the auditor said, adding: “The department and Network Rail did not initially make adequate arrangements to manage the introduction of the new services and there is limited time remaining for planning to be completed.

“Development of these plans also requires a high degree of collaboration across the rail industry, and clarity over who has the authority to make decisions on how the rail network operates. However, the department and Network Rail did not fully consider what arrangements they would need to manage the transition to bringing the enhanced services into use.”

Despite these setbacks, however, Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said there was overall value in the project.

“The Thameslink Programme has a realistic prospect of delivering value for money, with significant benefits for passengers in terms of increased capacity, and more trains but a number of key risks and challenges still remain to be overcome,” he commented.

“The department’s recent decision to introduce new services more gradually than originally planned means that passengers will get the full expected benefits one year later than planned, but it is a sensible step to protect value for money and passengers from further possible disruption due to large numbers of new services being launched at the same time.”

Figures from the NAO’s report show the total budget for Network Rail’s infrastructure works has increased from its 2012 figure by £474m (9.4%) to £5.5bn, while the budget for phase two increased by 18% from £2.6bn to £3.1bn – largely associated with the works at London Bridge, which surfaced unexpected and challenging conditions.

Network Rail finally moved into the latter stages of the London Bridge project last week after completing track and signalling upgrades between the station and Blackfriars.

This week GTR also unveiled the improvements across the franchise, but revealed that it was forced to push back its promise of 24 trains every hour to December 2019. The NAO applauded the move and said it was right for the developers of the project not to commit to a date which would not be possible.

Chris Gibb, chair of the Thameslink Programme Industry Readiness Board, explained: “By phasing the introduction of the new timetable in this way, we have front-loaded the benefits for passengers and then spread further changes in such a way that they can be more reliably introduced.

“Passengers will still enjoy almost as many additional trains in May as previously planned and we are doing some things earlier with an early introduction of some off-peak Thameslink trains through to the East Coast Mainline in April and the early use of the London Bridge route to give performance improvements.”

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Huguenot   23/11/2017 at 13:18

I still say that 24tph through the Thameslink core is going to be unworkable. You can spend as much on maintenance and renewal as you like but the slightest import of late running from south of the Thames will seriously disrupt Midland Main Line and East Coast Main Line services, which are already running at capacity at peak times. The wide variety of Thameslink origins and destinations south of London is a big mistake and will increase the risk of late running. ETCS and TMS may enable trains to run closer together than conventional signalling, but won't help if trains are already running late when they enter the core. This is going to be a special problem for the MML because of all the flat junctions. It will be bad enough on the ECML but at least its tracks are paired by direction which enables a suburban train to be diverted to the slow line to let an inter-city train overtake. 24tph is just whistling in the wind.

Andrew Gwilt   24/11/2017 at 02:44

Could the Class 700's end up going to Ely and King's Linn or will they be allowed to go as far as Cambridge and Cambridge North when the new timetable starts.

Railfan   24/11/2017 at 09:49

...or maybe Marks Tey to Sudbury?

Andrew Gwilt   24/11/2017 at 13:43

@Railfan. Jokes gone old ok. No more.

Sonning Cutting   24/11/2017 at 17:06

It is always best to introduce changes gradually. Big Bangs can be just that. The complexity of the Thameslink network certainly calls for a step-by-step approach and most informed observers and railwaymen have been saying this for some time.

Icn   24/11/2017 at 17:35

Once again Andrew you are talking out of context. The article is about the concerns of the abiliity to operate the proposed service as it is without adding even more far flung destinations!

Icn   24/11/2017 at 17:36

Once again Andrew you are talking out of context. The article is about the concerns of the abiliity to operate the proposed service as it is without adding even more far flung destinations!

Andrew Gwilt   24/11/2017 at 20:53

@Icn. Me talking out of context. Shut up will you.

Icn   24/11/2017 at 22:02

You just don't get it do you Andrew. Why don't you just stick to Rail Magazine with your fantasy rolling stock comments and leave the RTM publication to informed rail professionals (which I suspect you are not)

Andrew Gwilt   25/11/2017 at 00:22


Andrew JG   25/11/2017 at 10:43

I guarantee that Thameslink may allow to use the Class 700’s to King’s Linn and Ely when the May timetable is being introduced and could allow some of the Class 700’s to operate to/from Ely and King’s Linn. But it’s likely that the Class 700’s will terminate at Cambridge and Cambridge North when the new timetable has been introduced from early next year and the Channelsea Tunnel Link is to open to allow the Class 700’s to operate from Wimbledon, Sutton, Gatwick Airport and Brighton to Cambridge, Cambridge North, Letchworth Garden City, Welwyn Garden City and Peterborough via Channelsea Tunnel and the ECML. Plus with 25 new Class 717’s to be built next year to replace the Class 313’s that will be operating on the Moorgate-Hertford North and Letchworth Garden City services.

R Nosgrove   25/11/2017 at 16:07

@RTM - I guarantee that registration of posters, effective moderation of comments and banning of certain individuals would make this journal far more appealing to the rail professionals it presumably aims to attract.

Icn   25/11/2017 at 20:16

Here, here. I am a signalling engineer with over 40 years service to the railway industry and consequently object to being called a moron and being told to sod off by a train spotter who has no place in this publication. But "I can guarantee" that he will respond to this comment.

Andrew Gwilt   25/11/2017 at 23:18

Don’t care if I get banned. Go ahead then. Ban me.

Manchester Mike   26/11/2017 at 13:08

Moderators please ban the commenter who consistently calls other commenters names. It's really unprofessional.

Andrew Gwilt   26/11/2017 at 14:53

@Manchester Mike. Really?! Oh I’m laughing so hard right now.

RMT   26/11/2017 at 20:13

What have you got to laugh at? You're making a complete a*se of yourself. You think you know better than professionals with decades worth of experience? I sure hope you don't treat customers in your new job in the same way as your comments.

R Nosgrove   26/11/2017 at 23:27

@RMT - Blimey, this guy is actually employable? Perhaps his new job will teach him to control his childish tantrums and treat others with respect.

Gabriel Oaks   27/11/2017 at 11:36

The NAO report is simply validating what many from within the industry have been saying for several years.....

Andrew Gwilt   27/11/2017 at 20:53

@RMT. Actually I respect customers very well thank you very much.

Andrew Gwilt   27/11/2017 at 20:54

@R Nosgrove. Really? Childish tantrums. Leave off with you. Not your business anyway sticking your nose out and finding out that Im acting like a 10 year child.

R Nosgrove   27/11/2017 at 21:25

@Andrew Gwilt - ten years old? Seems about right. You said it, not me!

Andrew Gwilt   27/11/2017 at 23:12


Henry Law   28/11/2017 at 15:47

The problems of Thameslink reliability have existed from the start.Linking two separate networks can propagate disruption from one to another. These was understood by the pre-1939 London rail planners when the then LPTB took over routes and made them self-contained and limited to the built-up area, creating systems such as the Northern Line and Central Line extensions to High Barnet and Loughton, respectively. Perhaps self-containment should be a long-term objective for Thameslink, Crossrail and any other future regional routes.

PMH   29/11/2017 at 11:28

The biggest impediment to achieving 24tph through the centre is going to be the passenger unloading & loading time at the major stations. I am surprised they didn't at least order rolling stock with more doors.

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