Railtrack seeks to offload Thameslink plan

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The Independent Online

Railtrack wants to abandon primary responsibility for all major rail projects in London including the flagship Thameslink 2000 rail route, according to senior industry sources.

Managers at Railtrack have let it be known they would be prepared to see Transport for London (TfL), part of the Greater London Authority (GLA), taking a major role together with the Government's Strategic Rail Authority.

The scheme to upgrade the Thameslink commuter rail network which runs north-south through London was costed at £600m in 1996, a figure which subsequently rose to around £1bn. It is now believed the sum could be double that.

The project amounts to the largest expansion of the commuter rail network for a generation and Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, is determined to have an input into its specifications.

Mr Livingstone believes that the only way to ensure all the projects go ahead is if the GLA takes a leading role. As part of the Government's 10-year plan, the Mayor has promised to boost the number of people travelling by rail by 50 per cent.

Railtrack is known to be keen to hive off a series of projects including the refurbishment of the capital's main railway stations in order to concentrate its efforts elsewhere. The railway infrastructure company has encountered massive problems completing the work to upgrade the west coast main line between London and Glasgow – arguably the most important project on its books.

One source close to the talks said of the Thameslink 2000 scheme: "Transport for London made the approach in early summer and Railtrack's response was 'take it'."

If negotiators fail to strike a deal in which the infrastructure company takes a subsidiary role, there would be a big question mark over the viability of the project. The scheme aims to alleviate congestion on the present Thameslink route and London Underground by allowing trains to run straight through the capital between King's Lynn and Brighton.

A spokesman for Railtrack said he was "not aware" of any discussions between the company and TfL, but said Thameslink 2000 was being reviewed under the auspices of the SRA. The project was originally due for completion last year, but it is thought now that it will not be finished until 2008 at the earliest.

Railtrack argued the case for the link at a public inquiry which ended earlier this year. The inspector is unlikely to deliver his verdict for 12 months. A key proposal to widen an existing viaduct through Borough Market in south London provoked hundreds of complaints because it will entail the demolition of the market roof and 14 buildings.

Mr Livingstone has also pledged his support for the £3bn Cross Rail scheme which would initially link London's Docklands in the east with Heathrow in the west and include a twin bore tunnel from Liverpool Street to Paddington. The SRA and Transport for London have taken charge of the project.

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