Thameslink upgrade edges towards end

There were many Network Rail and contractor staff at work over the August Bank Holiday weekend in London. They were busy with the latest phase of NR’s massive Thameslink upgrade programme (yes, the one that was once called Thameslink 2000).

Although I didn’t see the work at first hand, I rather liked this NR video of the weekend’s efforts (although I’m not convinced about the backing music…).

Rising costs plunge Network Rail into crisis

Network Rail is running out of money. It can’t afford its enhancement programme because costs have increased beyond initial estimates. No longer can it borrow private money and public money from its owner, the Department for Transport, is subject to annual limits.

A quick look at the figures shows how deep are NR’s problems. When it published is Strategic Business Plan for 2014-2019 (Control Period 5, CP5), NR reckoned on enhancement projects worth £12.4 billion. Of this around 30% was allocated to electrification schemes, equating to around £3.7bn. Once projects that were to be funded separately (such as Thameslink, Crossrail, some parts of the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme and Borders Rail) were taken from the £12.4bn, it left £7.8bn.

Regulator ORR cut NR’s £7.8bn to £7bn by applying efficiency assumptions and by cutting risk allowances. Electrification’s £3.7bn was now around £3.3bn on this basis although this figure is not specified within ORR’s final determination of NR’s costs for CP5 because the regulator realised that NR’s plans were not fully developed and thus costs for individual projects could not be determined.

To determine these costs, NR and ORR use a process called ECAM (Enhancement Cost Adjustment Mechanism) to come to an efficient cost against which NR’s performance can be measured. Two electrification projects have gone through ECAM and the results are shocking.

NR had estimated for its Strategic Business Plan that Great Western and Midland Main Line electrifications would cost £1.3bn. After ECAM, that figure stood at £2.8bn, of which £2.2bn was allocated to 2014-2019 (the final stages of Midland electrification had already slipped into the 2019-24 control period).

Take that £2.2bn from the £3.3bn leaves change of just over £1bn. For this, NR’s Strategic Business Plan contains electrification projects for Trans-Pennine (£239m), Cardiff Valleys (£305m) and rolling programme for Scotland valued at £171m. There are other projects but the trio mentioned total £715m. That’s the price before ECAM, a mechanism that broadly doubled the price of GW and MML wiring. So make that £715m a more realistic £1.4bn and that’s NR’s enhancement programme bust.

So what to do? What to drop? TP is as good as gone already but that still leaves NR short. So Wales or Scotland? Politics comes into play now. Railway funding is devolved in Scotland, taking it our of the hands of Westminster ministers. That leaves Wales looking vulnerable but that might be short-sighted. Stringing wires above the Welsh Valley lines to allow electric trains to run will release diesel units for use elsewhere and it’s very likely that, apart from Pacers, they will be needed elsewhere. So perhaps ditching Wales is not such a good idea.

Eyes then turn to the Midland Main Line project. It’s already slipped into 2019-24 and the long-distance operator, East Midlands Trains, has a partially modernised inter-city fleet. Its Class 222s have a decent life ahead of them but EMT’s High Speed Trains are reaching the end of their lives. Aided by stock being released from Great Western as a result of its electrification, it could be possible to add a few more years to HSTs but the line needs a more credible answer that’s yet to be found. DfT needs to decide its approach before bidders to replace EMT draw up their plans next year for a 2017 takeover.

Cancelling – ok, Network Rail, postponing – MML electrification would release the team currently working from Derby to help other wiring projects, making them more likely to run to time. Of course, this would not ease the MML’s congestion problems but perhaps it’s time to call a short-term halt to predict and provide. After all, High Speed 2 will release a good deal of long-distance capacity from MML when it opens to the East Midlands and South Yorkshire around 2033.

Of course, NR could try to extract more money from DfT but with the Chancellor of the Exchequer having just said that he wants savings from DfT of just over £500m this year, it is very unlikely that the Treasury will release more money for DfT to pass to NR. The infrastructure owner can no longer borrow from the private markets. Its loan agreement with the DfT contained a buffer to cope with the risks that both knew where in ORR’s tough final determination but it did not allow for ECAM.

Nor did it allow for another ORR adjustment process, this time relating to civils spending on such things as bridges, embankments, cuttings, structures and tunnels. Once again, when it came to assessing NR’s CP5 spending plans, ORR found that for civils they were not sufficiently developed to allow robust spending estimates to be produced. ORR is expected to reveal its figures at the end of June before confirming them by the end of September. There’s scope to blow another hole in NR’s finances.

The process of setting NR’s spending and income for CP5 – the periodic review –  took several years’ work by ORR and an army of consultants. Yet within months of its decisions taking effect, NR was having to talk to its DfT paymasters as its finances unravelled. If those finances become much worse then NR will have little option but to ask for an interim review. This would be humiliating for ORR because it would very publicly reveal the flaws in its original review.

ORR is now investigating NR’s enhancement performance having revealed that NR has already missed 30% of its CP5 targets. ORR will look at four areas; project delivery including managing and estimating costs, project delivery, managing major projects such as Great Western Route Modernisation and management of the CP5 investment portfolio. ORR has already commented that common failings “seem to be happening because each project is starting from a ‘blank piece of paper’ with little central guidance”.

That may be so but ORR has just spent years crawling all over NR’s plans before announcing that they were deliverable.

DfT cannot escape this mess. Its 2012 High Level Output Specification massively upped the number of electrification projects, not least with its Electric Spine plan. It was the first of four strategic priorities to provide an electric freight route between Southampton and the Midlands. A large part of this top priority is MML electrification but it also extends over the Bletchley-Bedford route and then over the currently disused route to Bicester. Will DfT now agree that its top priority be dumped?

This article was first published in RAIL 777 in June just days before the DfT announced that it was ‘pausing’ electrification projects for the Midland Main Line and North Trans-Pennine route.

Bringing electric trains to North West England

There’s very little under the sun that’s new. Promoting and pushing through major rail projects today has characteristics that former generations of railwaymen will recognise.

When that doyen of railway writing, O S Nock, told the tale of British Rail’s 1970s’ electrification of the West Coast Main Line north from Weaver Junction to Glasgow, he raised the matter of connecting lines from Manchester and Liverpool northwards. They were not part of BR’s scheme and so through trains would stop to change from diesel to electric locomotives at Preston (and again in reverse at Carstairs for Edinburgh trains).

Nock wrote: “The trouble with such seemingly tempting additions is that it is difficult to know where to stop. The Liverpool-Scottish trains will be using the historic Liverpool and Manchester Railway line as far as Parkside Junction, and it is almost unthinkable that only the western section of this famous pioneer link should be electrified.

“If on the other hand justification were sought for electrification between Liverpool and Manchester on its own account, the former LNWR route would probably not be favoured. As a short inter-city electrified link one fancies that the old ‘Cheshire Lines’ would find the strongest justification; and this would not be to the advantage of the Liverpool-Scottish service.”

Now, over 40 years after WCML wires reached Glasgow, that historic Liverpool-Manchester link does have electric trains and it was electrified in two parts, with the Manchester half favoured first. The Cheshire Lines route was left untouched.

Of Nock’s Liverpool-Scottish trains, there is now nothing. Today, such a journey demands that a passenger use a local service to reach the WCML spine at Wigan or Preston for an express north. Liverpool, it seems, has lost the rail battle with its rival at the other end of the ship canal. If no bidder for TransPennine Express wishes to run such a service, I hope the Department for Transport will not complain if an open access operator takes an interest.

Nock offers some explanation for BR not wiring Manchester-Euxton via Bolton, Liverpool-Earlestown and Preston-Blackpool. They would have represented an extra 26% on the total WCML route mileage as authorised by government, he said, and “because of their physical and traffic natures would probably have involved a higher percentage increase in total cost.”

Those routes are now being wired, with the addition of the more direct Liverpool-Wigan line. The considerable engineering effort Network Rail is expending at Farnworth Tunnel near Bolton hints that Nock’s assertion was correct.

One Farnworth tunnel bore and track is currently closed while NR expands this bore to take two tracks and their new overhead line equipment. The other bore and track maintains a local weekday service.

Nock looked at the effect of not electrifying what we now call the Lancashire Triangle back in the early 1970s. He noted that the 0753 Manchester-Glasgow took 3hr 29min – “vastly better than anything before electrification”. Today, the closest train is an 0745 departure which will see you in Glasgow in 3hr 31min having changed at Preston. There’s a direct train at 0716, taking 3hr 13min via Parkside Junction. It should be quicker when the more direct Bolton route receives wires.

Back then, Nock reckoned you could clip 25 minutes from the Manchester-Glasgow by running electric throughout via Bolton. He recorded that the first 58 minutes of the 0753’s journey covered just 31 miles!

If it was cost that prevented these lines being added to the WCML scheme, then it will come as no surprise to those calling for Great Western electrification to be extended from Newbury to Bedwyn. Newbury might the the local centre of population and commerce but Bedwyn has been the western limit of commuter services from Paddington for decades. Its trains also serve Kintbury and Hungerford.

In place of 13 route miles of extra wiring, train operator First Great Western faces the prospect of running a diesel shuttle service, perhaps peak diesel services all the way to Paddington, or bringing in a sub-fleet of electric trains with battery capacity to run beyond Newbury without wires.

In assessing the most cost-effective and passenger-friendly option, it doesn’t help that the GW scheme’s cost have already risen from £1bn to over £1.6bn since it was first announced in 2009.

There’s always been a tension between those that fund railways and those that operate railways. If we’re to spend wisely that tension must remain. Blank cheques or excessive credit does the railway no favours.

This article was first published in RAIL 773 in April 2015.

Network Rail chairman talks cars at National Railway Museum dinner

Richard Parry-Jones talked cars at last week’s National Railway Museum 40th anniversary dinner, warning the assembled railwaymen that cars were closing the gap on rail’s environmental advantage.

Parry-Jones has had a distinguished career in the motor industry so he knows his stuff when it comes to cars. He talked of the latest technology from Volvo in autonomous cars. He talked of the improvements in computing power that sit behind the switch to autonomy and said it could benefit rail operators. There should be fewer level crossing collisions, he reckoned, because the car would know that a train was approaching and refuse to obey any driver’s command to move onto the crossing.

He reminded his audience that cars intervening in their drivers’ actions is nothing new – it started with ABS braking.

NR’s chairman predicted a change in the way we own and use cars. He reckoned we would shift to car hire by the hour, noting the very poor utilisation of cars at the moment. Today’s rail commuter might drive to their local station where their car would sit for the next nine hours. It might spend even longer idle every night. For an expensive object, he’s right to say that represents poor use. Trains certainly work much harder even if not every seat is occupied on every journey.

Autonomous car hire by the hour could see commuters catching a car to their station before a train to work, he suggested. This is fine but the companies owning these fleets of cars would have the same problem that rail companies have today. That’s very high asset use during peak times and then idleness for the rest of the day. How much of the costs of that idleness do they factor into the peak journey price?

For rail, Parry-Jones suggested that increasing computing power would lead to ‘atomisation’. Best described as a modern version of ‘slip coaches’ this would see trains split into constituent vehicles before being sent to their final destinations. Each self-powered vehicle could be controlled to its destination while the rest of the train carried on. I can see how this might work, even with points switching the vehicle into a bay platform to allow the next train to pass unhindered.

The opposite is slightly more challenging. ‘Re-atomisation’ would be a series of controlled collisions between vehicles moving at speed. It happens on space stations I suppose but it’s a very new concept for railways to consider!

Network Rail is stifling important debate

I’ve been writing recently for a quarterly magazine called Rail Review. It’s aimed at senior railway managers and, uniquely I think for railway magazines, it is peer-reviewed. In other words, the features within it are reviewed by experienced railwaymen who give a view on the ideas and opinions within those features.

In the most recent edition is my interview with Network Rail Infrastructure Projects Managing Director Francis Paonessa to examine the aftermath of overrunning engineering work last Christmas at Paddington, King’s Cross and London Bridge.

The essence of the interview was that NR regards the disruption last Christmas as inevitable. Paonessa pointed out that NR plans for a 95% of engineering closures to be completed on time, with the clear implication that 1-in-20 will run late.

NR checks its plans by breaking them down into their constituent parts and then assessing each part according to previous experience of the time each part takes. In other words, NR uses averages to predict future events. This has the effect of blunting the effect of extreme events, such as previous overruns.

I can’t say that I was overly impressed with what I heard and so was looking forward to seeing what the peer reviewers would make of my piece. However, Rail Review’s publishing team found it almost impossible to find anyone willing to take on the task. In the end, only Michael Holden stood up to the plate. He’s a vastly experienced railway manager who had recently stepped down as chairman of East Coast as the Department for Transport sold that company to a consortium of Stagecoach and Virgin.

He seemed unimpressed, noting the problem with computer models – ‘garbage in, garbage out’ was his pithy summary.

That no other railway managers dared stick their head above the parapet is deeply worrying. It shows the dominant nature of Network Rail if its customers dare not criticise it, even in a limited distribution magazine. This is not healthy. I’m not calling for a free-for-all but an industry in which debate is stifled is an industry that will not fix its problems.

There is a debate to be had about engineering work and the closures and inconvenience its brings to passengers who pay an increasing proportion of the railway’s income. There is a balance between adding so much contingency in people, equipment and time into engineering work that it becomes too expensive, uneconomic and achieves so little work that further closures are needed.

There’s a debate about the best time to close lines. Should it be at holiday periods (when perhaps demand is lower) or during the week when people need trains to get to and from work? Should it be in winter when daylight is in short supply and weather less favourable or in summer when there could be more holidaymakers? Should closures be longer and perhaps more efficient or be a series of short closures, perhaps every night, with the implication that work will take longer overall?

Sadly, except for Michael, there was no-one from today’s railway companies willing to give a view on a subject that prompts strong opinions from press and public alike.

I think Network Rail (and its Department for Transport paymasters) should closely and honestly examine whether their actions are inhibiting healthy debate.

Chiltern line reopens following Harbury landslip

Well done to Network Rail for reopening the London-Birmingham route through Harbury Cutting following a landslip in late January. It disrupted over 130 daily Chiltern, CrossCountry and freight services as 350,000 tonnes of spoil threatened to engulf the railway.

Over the intervening days, NR has removed around 400,000 tonnes of spoil to create more stable banks. This is not the first time such work has been done since the line opened in 1852. Perhaps the main difference is that when the cutting was first excavated, it was done chiefly by human muscle, today NR used a fleet of diggers and dumpers to lift and remove the offending spoil.

The work has changed the slope of the cutting side from up to 35 degrees to 17 degrees at its shallowest. This, combined with flat berms created within the slope, should do much provide a more stable structure and prevent future slips.

Network Rail has also improved drainage with a crest drain installed at the top of the slope to better control water flow, once again bringing extra stability.

This timelapse footage shows the fleet from contractor Murphy hard at work day and night to remove material and provide a more stable slope. NETWORK RAIL.

N Briggs courtesy Warwick Museum via warwickshirerailways.com Harbury gwrhc94

Contrast NR’s footage with this photograph from 1884 when the Great Western Railway was widening the cutting as it attempted to increase ground stability. This view also serves to show the difference between the permanent way tracks in the foreground and the temporary track on which the locomotive and its rake of spoil wagons are standing. N BRIGGS COURTESY WARWICK MUSEUM VIA WARWICKSHIRERAILWAYS.COM

 Network Rail Harbury Cutting BD0Q1491v1This view shows Harbury Cutting on both side of the short tunnel on February 1 2015. NETWORK RAIL.

Network Rail’s Christmas problems reveal deeper faults

It’s been a bad month for Network Rail. High profile failures over Christmas at King’s Cross and Paddington, followed by problems at London Bridge, have put plenty of pressure on Mark Carne’s team.

London Bridge is in the middle of a massive improvement programme to deliver a better Thameslink service from 2018. With platforms closed for rebuilding, NR and the station’s train operators had already decided to cut services. (Thameslink trains diverted away and Southeastern services to Charing Cross no longer calling.) This proved inadequate against the crowds using the station in the first working week of January.

NR Route Managing Director Dave Ward told the BBC: “We need to step back and see exactly how we have got into this situation – what has caused this. We believed, and the execution of the works kind of proved it, that our plans were very tight and were very thorough. We’d been modelling this a number of times.”

He added: “We thought we would be presenting a new station and a new method of operation after several months of misery leading up to it and that hasn’t happened and I’m deeply regretful for it.”

As he spoke, NR was preparing to publish a report explaining what had gone wrong at Paddington and King’s Cross, were passengers were disrupted on December 27 2014. It duly arrived on January 12.

This report explained that at King’s Cross a plan to renew points at Holloway quickly went wrong when untried equipment proved faulty. Problems then snowballed with the result that drivers needed to move trains of ballast and other materials ran out of hours. No replacements could be found.

The report also revealed that a plan agreed between NR and train operators was not implemented by local staff. The plan should have seen long-distance trains arrive in Platform 4 to drop southbound passengers before shunting to Platform 5 to pick up northbound passengers. A local plan decided by station staff and signallers at King’s Cross box used only Platform 4, removing the shunt. However, this meant that passengers struggled to leave incoming trains because the platform was already full with those waiting to board.

NR suggests there was a “short term breakdown in communications in how to handle longer distance trains”. It doesn’t make clear whether the NR-TOC plan to use two platforms was not communicated to station staff and signallers or whether it was communicated and then changed locally.

Details are sketchy of the problems at Paddington with NR’s report failing to get to the bottom of why signal testing expected to take two hours actually took ten. Unlike at King’s Cross (where there was warning of 14 hours that the line would not open on time), there was no warning at Paddington.

Signal testing around Old Oak Common (OOC) was reported as finished at 0330 with First Great Western’s first long-distance train timetabled to leave Paddington at 0730. Testing was in the hands of NR’s contractor SSL (a joint venture of Alstom and Balfour Beatty). SSL had a significant overrun at Poole last May when resignalling the line to Wool. A report into this found that there had been no senior SSL management on site, that communications with NR had been poor and that NR’s and SSL’s project offices were geographically remote.

Remedial action was taken for OOC’s work but NR now admits that it was unlikely the Poole investigation found the root-causes of that overrun. Another review of Paddington beckons with NR’s report saying: “The work management processes of SSL that led to the incorrect conclusion that the signalling testing of the main lines was complete at 0330 will be thoroughly reviewed by SSL and Network Rail staff.”

Checks of paperwork supporting the testing showed there was more to do. This was both physical work that needed to be redone or rechecked and inconsistencies in the paperwork that needed to be resolved. What is absent from the report is any explanation of why work had to be redone and why there were inconsistencies.

It’s clear that NR’s planning and management needs to improve. Both project passed NR’s risk tests as being 95% likely to be completed on time. There’s no mention in the report whether those conducting these tests knew, for example, that the King’s Cross contractor was using untried kit.

There’s now likely to be pressure to allow projects to have more time to complete work. This could mean more weekend closures or more weekday blockades of lines. This is an option that TOCs and most passengers are unlikely to welcome but there should be a clear debate.

There must also be a debate about the level of work being done. With two major overruns in the last year, NR could be very tempted to drop SSL as a contractor. However, with only a handful of signalling contractors to choose from, and a massive amount of work looming, that option seems untenable.

So it is with experienced project managers. NR has a laudable apprentice programme and puts considerable effort into management training. Despite this, it’s seen key staff leave for other companies, such as HS2. Are we now seeing the effects of the long-talked-about skills shortage?

A shorter version of this article appeared in RAIL 766.

An afternoon with Parliament’s Transport Select Committee

When Gwyneth Dunwoody chaired Parliament’s Transport Select Committee she used to favour the rooms along an upstairs corridor in the Houses of Parliament themselves.

These rooms were cramped and they were hot in summer. Witnesses, journalists and visitors, perhaps even MPs too, would sweat as Dunwoody probed and questioned through a sticky, summer afternoon.

Thankfully, today’s chairman, Louise Ellman, favours the air-conditioned comfort of Portcullis House and so it was on Monday 9 June that a handful of MPs and others gathered in the Grimond Room to hear Mark Carne answer questions.

It was the Network Rail chief executive’s first appearance and I reckon he got the better of his inquisitors. He wasn’t knocked off balance by any of the questions and by the end of the session Louise had lost six of her committee who upped-sticks at various points through the 75-minute quiz.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith opened a line of questioning about the performance of contractors and NR’s confidence in them in the light of a recent engineering overrun at Colchester. It elicited a response about NR’s move towards longer-term alliances and better investment in people. It’s a shame there was no follow-up question about contractors’ skills shortages, particularly in signalling and overhead line engineering because both are areas in which NR has large volumes of work planned over the next five years.

Carne spoke also of the need to work closely with train operators and his view that more work should be done in long blockades rather than piecemeal over weekends and nights. This is an area the MPs would have done well to probe in more detail. None appeared to know the saga of Watford Junction’s track and signalling renewals.

NR announced last summer that Watford Junction would close for 16 days over 9-25 August in a move that would sever the key West Coast Main Line (albeit during the slightly quieter summer holidays). This would then be followed by work over Christmas, over 14-22 February 2015 and 3-6 April 2015 (Easter). When this plan was revealed, no-one I asked could explain how services and passengers would work around the blockade.

It struck me that the announcement had come before the plan was properly worked through and probably before train operators had agreed to it. This feeling was reinforced when NR subsequently dropped the long blockade in favour of three weekends of work in August, followed by Christmas, Easter and two further weekends.

So Carne’s words about moving more towards work in blockades and closer liaison with train operators were open to challenge, had the Transport Committee members been suitably well-informed. (As an aside, the Office of Rail Regulation said way back in June 2008: “Network Rail believes – and we and the industry agree – that its strategy of depending so heavily on long possessions is no longer acceptable. Users need a railway which better meets customer requirements for travelling at weekends and late in the evening.”)

The MPs also appeared confused about the difference between emergency repairs and planned improvements. Why, asked Jason McCartney, could money not be found to remove bottlenecks on the network in the same way money was found to repair Dawlish (where the track and sea wall was washed away in last winter’s storms). “Are you able to do it with other projects?” he asked.

Carne had already explained that half of the money to repair Dawlish has come from insurance and the other half from NR resources. He had also explained that it’s government that decides where to make improvements from options drawn up by NR, having decided how much it’s willing to spend on railways.

“We can’t de-bottleneck a complete railway line and change our five-year investment plans because we’ve had one series of particular issues,” Carne said.

NR’s chief executive had earlier told MPs that his company was modelled on ordinary FTSE companies when it came to its governance, that is, he reported to the chairman and there was an overall board of executive and non-executive directors.

All true of course but NR is also a not-for-profit company created by the government and from September, it’s debts will count as government debts. So having modelled itself on a FTSE company, it can’t complain at the headlines that followed its Annual Report publication later that same week. According to Engineering and Technology Magazine it was ‘Network Rail profits soar as punctuality falls’.

Yet NR’s income and spending is regulated and so the concept of profits is rather flawed in this context. NR explained its 86% increase in profits after tax to £1,256 million as the result of “accounting gains on hedging instruments” (£304m) and a tax credit of £221m (up from a tax charge of £70m the year before).

The annual report revealed that performance had fallen from 90.9% to 90% which the company explained as being the result of a million more train services running each year compared with a decade ago. That may well be the case but NR has also seen its network hugely improved to cope with this increase in trains.

NR missed its five-year long-distance targets last April, managing 86.9% instead of the required 92.0%. It should find the next five years easier, having convinced the Office of Rail Regulation to scale back its target for 2014-19 to 88% public performance measure (PPM) for East Coast, Virgin West Coast and First Great Western’s long-distance trains. The overall target to be reached for all trains by March 2019 is 92.5% on time.

I had a flashback to Iain Coucher’s time running Network Rail when Carne deflected MPs’ questions about NR’s governance and structure by asking: “What’s broken? What needs to change?” This was exactly Coucher’s line when he answered similar questions and yet since then, the railway has seen McNulty’s major report about costs and reform and then the formation of the Rail Delivery Group to combat the feeling that the railway was not joined-up.

 

New communications man for Network Rail

Welcome to Barney Wyld who has joined Network Rail as communications director, replacing former No 10 man Tom Kelly.

He faces some challenges in debunking old railway myths, not least that of fares always rising and improvements never appearing. For there are more improvements being delivered today than at any time for many years. Perhaps there are too many for NR’s legion of communications managers to communicate?

RAIL’s office certainly has a recurring discussion of the difficulty in extracting information from the company. It’s hard to believe the company does not know what work’s coming up, or when a certain project might be completed, but that’s often the impression it creates.

The money being spent today on rail is a good news story. At a time when there are many competing demands for funding, the railway owes it to itself and to others to properly explain where its chunk of taxpayers’ cash is going.

King’s Cross progress for Thameslink

Next time you’re heading north from King’s Cross be sure to grab a window seat looking west. Keep your eyes peeled as you leave Gasworks Tunnel (it’s the first tunnel) and you’ll see new track climbing from a new concrete tunnel portal for Thameslink to meet the East Coast Main Line at Belle Isle.

The portal marks the start of Canal Tunnels which run to a flying junction just north of St Pancras Low Level station. Over the next few months, the new track will be connected to the ECML, paving the way for Peterborough and Cambridge trains to run under central London rather than terminating at King’s Cross.

Once your train plunges into Copenhagen Tunnel, you should switch sides and keep an eye out as you pass Hornsey station. Then you’ll see a new depot being built for Thameslink on the site of the old Coronation Sidings.

The next major Thameslink work is visible at Peterborough, on the side same as at Hornsey. Here, sidings have been cleared of stock, and in same cases cleared away themselves, to provide space to build Thameslink’s new facilities.

Over the past few years, so much Thameslink building work has been concentrated at Blackfriars, London Bridge and Borough Market, it’s been hard to know that this great project will also benefit Great Northern passengers.

Meanwhile, the first of the route’s new trains has been put through its paces on Siemens’ test track at Wildenrath. It’s a real sign that the £6.5 billion programme is edging towards its 2018 completion.