Thameslink £5.5bn project at the heart of strategy for rail growth

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly has approved the £5.5bn Thameslink modernisation programme.

The project will deliver a dramatic increase in capacity, with 12-carriage trains running through central London at a frequency of 24 trains an hour by 2015. The first phase of improvements will be delivered before the Olympics, with trains through central London lengthened to 12 carriages and running 16 times an hour by 2011.

Other major improvements include 900 new carriages with associated platform lengthening, power supply upgrades and increased depot capacity for the busiest routes in London and the South East, and £425 million capacity works at Reading station to tackle one of the network's biggest bottlenecks and provide four new platforms.

These schemes represent key elements of today's rail White Paper, Delivering a Sustainable Railway, which guarantees a railway that will expand to carry at least 180 million more passengers a year.

The Transport Secretary announced that capacity will increase to accommodate growth of more than 20 per cent in the next seven years, on a network which will be even safer and more reliable.

The strategy also allows for a doubling in capacity over 30 years through continual and rational growth of a rail network which is flexible enough to respond to changing passenger demand.

It must also be a railway which sharpens its environmental performance and thrives on new technology, the strategy makes clear.

The costed plans for the near future also include a £120m allocated for the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street and £200 million to start work on a strategic freight network.

Major cities around the country will benefit from extra capacity - with the Government delivering a total of 1,300 extra carriages in the years to 2014. More than £9 billion will be invested in growing capacity in this period.

Ms Kelly said:

"Our railway is flourishing and in this White Paper we show how we will grow and develop the network for decades to come.

"With more than two-thirds of rail journeys starting or ending in London, it is vital we deliver for the region's passengers - and so not only will there be more capacity and reliability on their trains but also more modern stations, simple and efficient ticketing, quality of service and value for money. People are right to be so demanding and this strategy can deliver what passengers want.

"The modernisation of the Thameslink route is a landmark project for passengers in the London and the South East. It will help relieve overcrowding on one of Britain's most congested routes, and open up new opportunities for passengers to and through London.

"Steady investment has given us a rail network which is in good shape for the first time in a generation and this means we can be ambitious for its future. It should be a railway which helps power economic growth and enhances the quality of our lives. We can't know precisely what our railway will look like in 30 years time but now we can be confident of making it bigger, stronger and more flexible."

Ms Kelly also announced that the Government will continue to limit fare increases under its control (including standard season tickets and savers) to no more than one per cent above inflation. A new simplified fares structure will introduce just four basic ticket types across the country, ticket retailing will be streamlined to reduce ticket office queues, station access improved and passenger information improved.

More than 150 stations will be refurbished and upgraded at a cost of £150 million. The list is likely to include Barking, Dartford, East Grinstead, Fleet and Twyford.

The Government formally submitted its spending plans (including the High Level Output Specification) today for approval by the Office of Rail Regulation.