The cash strapped SRA is due to issue a cut down version of its strategic plan at the end of this month and Greens are calling for an urgent increase in government funding. Long promised schemes like Thameslink 2000 are unlikely to happen within the next decade, unless the government switches funding from roads to rail and enables the SRA to continue this vital work.
The government’s ten year transport plan made available funding to provide more trains and to persuade people to shift from road to rail. However, the backlog of maintenance work exposed by the Hatfield crash has eaten into the budget. On top of this, the system of sub-contracting created by privatisation has rapidly increased basic costs.
Jenny Jones said:
“The threat to these rail schemes is bad news for Londoners. These schemes and many other smaller scale schemes, have simply got to happen. Any delay would mean more cars on the roads, more pollution and more road casualties. Many people hoped that this government would invest in rail and provide a more sustainable alternative to the car, but the collapse of these schemes, would be a collapse of that promise.”
“With the government switching money from rail to road, the SRA is unlikely to be able to deliver even the short list of long promised schemes to provide more rail capacity. We need the Mayor of London to take over Thameslink 2000, sort out the problems over planning permission and redesign the scheme so that it provides more local rail services for Londoners. At the moment, Thameslink 2,000 will benefit commuters from Kings Lynn and Littlehampton, but will by-pass the majority of people living in South East London.”
Thameslink 2,000 is top of the list of projects under threat, which also includes: the East London Line Extension; London OrbiRail and Crossrail. The project covers 15 London boroughs and an area stretching from Brighton in the south to Dartford in the east. Thameslink 2000 aims to expand the number of stations and improve the journey for more than 100,000 people who commute into and around London. There would be improved interchanges with the Underground and longer trains using extended platforms.
The Thameslink project has so far, failed to get planning permission after a lengthy public enquiry. Around £500m was set aside for this scheme when it was transferred over to Railtrack in 1996, but this pot of money appears to have been swallowed up by the failure of Railtrack. Also, the estimated costs have escalated to well over a billion pounds. There are now serious concerns about the future of the project as many of the project team of 250 consultants are being laid off. It was due for completion by 2000 (hence the name), a more recent target date was 2008, but even this could now be heading off into the sidings.
Jenny Jones warns, “We can steer clear of gridlock misery by encouraging the shift from road to rail. Shifting money from road to rail is one way for the government to save face after its shameful botching of the plans to increase capacity of the rail network.”