By Phil Marsh

Britain’s busiest railway station attracts £800 million investment (or does it?)

Published: 3rd April 2016

But is it all new money or a repackaged announcement?

London’s Waterloo station is the UK’s busiest and the government has announced that it will be the receipt of £800 million over the next few years. This will be spent on lengthening platforms 1 to 4 and constructing a new concourse over the former international platforms which will be brought into use after a decade of promises and inaction.

The investment was announced by Network Rail (NR), the Department for Transport (DfT) and South West Trains (SWT) who it was aid were partners in the scheme. But of course it was the DfT and SWT who failed to agree a franchise extension when the latter ended negotiations when a gap of over £200million could not be closed in premium payments bringing an end to the much feted ‘Wessex Alliance’. This means that potentially there could be a new franchisee implementing the changes with NR after 2027.

The improvements will increase capacity by a third and help cope with the expected increase in passenger volumes and is the biggest investment in the station for decades. The project will take four years to deliver and will be undertaken while the station remains in operation adding huge complexities to the planning and delivery. Passenger numbers have doubled at Waterloo in the last 20 years and the SWT franchise is a genuinely profitable one which covers its cost and generates a profit for Stagecoach and the DfT.

But it is no use upgrading one station in isolation which is why another ten will be upgraded on SWT commuter routes. Longer trains will operate on the Waterloo to Reading route, and a previously announced new fleet of Siemens Class 707 trains brought into service.

They said:

Steve Scrimshaw, managing director of Siemens Rail Systems said that the new trains are lighter, more energy-efficient and will significantly increase the amount of available seats for passengers. The Class 707 will also improve the overall passenger experience offering free Wi-Fi, air conditioned coaches, full-width gangways and wider doors to make it easier and quicker to get on and off the trains.

Lessons learnt

As Railtrack discovered to its cost in 2000 that new trains require depots and sidings plus lineside power upgrades. Lessons have been learnt and there will be associated improvements made to depots and sidings.

The announcements aid that “Most of The majority of the station and infrastructure improvements are funded by the Department for Transport and as part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade. Investment is also being made in 150 new train carriages to create extra capacity for South West Trains passengers between London Waterloo and Windsor & Eton Riverside.”

Confused Government messages?

But then the message becomes muddled. Patrick Mcloughlin, Secretary of State for Transport said that “We [The DfT] are investing £40 billion in our nation’s railway infrastructure – the biggest upgrade since the Victorian times.

This investment really is the biggest since Victorian times but the Network Rail chairman Peter Hendy wrote on page five in his review that the investment was about £11.5billion, which is a huge vote of confidence in rail by the DfT. So it is a mystery why the DfT keeps announcing inflated figures when sticking to facts should be considered. asks the Secretary of State about investment

In fact, Patrick McLoughlin was asked by at The Bradshaw lecture in February about this and he said that ALL expenditure on rail was counted as a government investment. So there we have the answer.

Sir Peter Hendy, chairman, Network Rail also used the magic £40 billion investment phrase and added that the plans will create a bigger, better Waterloo and improve passengers’ journeys on our most congested part of Britain's railway. They are a long way from being the complete answer to the peak-time congestion on this packed commuter route, but they will make a big difference.

Platforms for growth

Platforms 20 to 24 at Waterloo have been mothballed for nine years since Eurostar relocated to St Pancras but finally after a raft of announcements, physical work has now commenced to rebuild the former Waterloo International Terminal and returning the disused platforms into use with a spacious new concourse.

Work to extend Platforms 1 to 4 to be able to accommodate 10 carriage trains will start in August 2017. Vauxhall and Surbiton stations will also be upgraded to increase capacity and improve passenger journeys. The programme of works is expected to be completed in December 2018 with all 24 platforms in use and a new timetable introduced.

Planned disruption

With a project of this size, it is inevitable that there will be some disruption for passengers but careful planning and delivery of the scheme will be utmost in the planners’ minds.

But beware August 2017 when Platforms 1 to 8 will be temporarily closed for 23 days for major works to take place which will allow 10-carriage trains to run on the Reading and Windsor lines. Some relief will be afforded at this time when platforms 20-24 will be temporarily re-opened to maximise the number of trains which can be operated but NR warns that significant disruption to trains will occur at this time.

Platforms have already been extended at more than 60 stations to be ready for longer trains and Waterloo is the final piece of that work to allow longer, 10-car trains to run on suburban services to Ascot, Bracknell, Camberley, Chertsey, Egham, Feltham, Martins Heron, Sunningdale, Virginia Water, Wokingham for the first time in the busiest periods. The overall scheme is forecast to bring 30% more seats which will no doubt be welcomed by all.

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