by Phil Marsh

Government extends First Capital Connect Franchise

Published: 3rd March 2014

New platforms opened at Peterborough and Gatwick on the new Thameslink route

In the wake of the Department for Transport franchising fiasco over the West Coast Main Line in 2012, most franchises have been subject to extensions, all adding to the cost of the initial errors.

The latest franchise to be extended involves Thameslink services operated by First Capital Connect (FCC) who will continue run cross-London commuter and medium distance services for the next 6 months.

FCC runs between Bedford and Brighton via central London and the Kings Lynn and Peterborough to Kings Cross trains plus the Hertford and Wimbledon loops. The extension will ensure continuity of services until the new ‘super-franchise ‘Thameslink and Great Northern’ (T&GN) commences in September this year.

This is a so-called super franchise as it will subsume Southern, Thameslink and FCC East Coast services and operate between Kings Lynn, Peterborough and the Channel coast through London using the new connection half a mile from Kings Cross to join the East Coast and Thameslink main lines.

This will create the largest UK rail franchise carrying over 280 million passengers every year operating direct services through London, made possible by the government’s £6.5 billion Thameslink project, which the Public Accounts Committee unjustly criticised recently.

They said

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: This contract is a major step towards boosting services for the 150,000 passengers who use these routes every day as well as the national and regional economies. The new contract with FCC represents the best deal for passengers and taxpayers. It ensures the continuity of the existing service and guarantees the completion of the ongoing Thameslink programme.

This agreement demonstrates that the government’s new franchising schedule is on track, a schedule that is delivering value for money for the taxpayer and supporting the ongoing multi-billion pound investment in our railways with new and improved rail franchises.

Franchise Background

The DfT announced a revised franchising schedule in March 2013 following an independent review by industry expert Richard Brown, which endorsed the Department for Transport’s overall franchise strategy. He also advised that competitions should be staggered to make them more deliverable. The government has announced a programme of direct awards, a process where it agrees a new contract with the existing train company, to deliver this. But how much this continues to cost is unlikely to ever be revealed.

It is the fourth direct franchise award to be made by the DfT, the others being Virgin Trains on the West Coast Main Line franchise, c2c for the Essex Thameside franchise and First Great Western for the Great Western Main Line franchise.

New platforms at Gatwick and Peterborough

A new platform, No. 7, has been brought into operational use on the Thameslink route at Gatwick Airport which is used by over 10 million passengers a year. Rail Minister Baroness Kramer opened the Gatwick platforms and the station has direct trains to 129 stations and with one change, 700 stations can be travelled to!

The extra facility removes one bottleneck on the Brighton main line and marks the end of a £80 million investment in this busy line. Other work completed included signalling equipment renewals at London Victoria, and major work at Stoats Next Junction near Purley and marks what should be a major improvement to this line through Sussex which gets ever busier increasing by 7% annually.

They said

Stewart Wingate, London Gatwick Chief Executive said; “London Gatwick is already the best connected UK airport by rail and this upgrade will benefit the broad range of people that the airport station attracts, from tourists to the business traveller. It will allow us to compete even more for passengers and airlines wanting to come to London and the South East region.”

Baroness Kramer, Transport Minister added that “Gatwick makes a vital contribution to the UK economy and we must make sure facilities are upgraded for the benefit of passengers. That is why we have committed a further £50 million towards the complete redevelopment of the station. I am delighted to open this new platform and thank staff for their work during horrendous weather.”

At the northern end of what will be the T&GN franchise at Peterborough, £47 million has been spent on upgrading the station, lengthening and providing new platforms to create extra capacity and to segregate north south train services from east west services.

A new system of construction was trialled with the extension of platform 1 reducing work to 20 days from what would have taken 20 weeks.

This was achieved by trying out modular polystyrene technology for the extension in conjunction with Carillion and Megatech Projects. They designed, delivered and installed 30 polystyrene blocks and matching concrete surface panels used to build the new platform.

They said:

Phil Verster, Route Managing Director for Network Rail, said: “Adopting the modular polystyrene technology has delivered significant benefits for the project both in terms of improved safety and reduced the time taken to complete the work. This method has been proven to be four times quicker to construct than traditional build and between two to three times faster than using a steel modular solution.

The design eliminated the need for foundations, which contributed to reducing construction time, minimised the risk of buried service strikes and meant less material from excavation.

Programme Manager, Steve Coe who managed the project added: “Platform 1 traditionally has extremely heavy footfall so minimising passenger disruption was key, making the modular polystyrene design the best option.

“The modular design and speed of build generated real tangible benefits to the project and it’s a method I will certainly consider adopting for future projects.”

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