This article appeared in a FirstGroup special report in the April issue of Total Politics
What’s your impression of how the work has been carried out? How has the disruption been handled?
I’ve witnessed first-hand the £6bn Thameslink Programme. It’s one of the biggest investment programmes on the UK’s rail network, but like any major infrastructure project, it has not been without a considerable amount of pain for my constituents who use it every day.
The first 12-carriage trains started running in December and although these don’t call at my constituency station in Hendon, they do provide knock-on capacity relief on those services that do call there. The way the disruption has been handled has been fairly good, because they have attempted to keep commuters advised about things like closures at weekends, in particular. In terms of communicating directly with people through text and email – technologies that weren’t available ten years ago – it’s got much better. When there is a problem on Thameslink, my constituents contact me, and they can now sign up to what First Capital Connect provides on Twitter and elsewhere.
What are they getting out of the improvements? What do they want?
They want a more regular service, where they are able to get to London much more quickly. Generally, they find Thameslink a lot more convenient if they live on that side of the constituency, rather than travelling on something like the tube. That’s a completely different experience.
Obviously Thameslink has been a really big investment programme. What’s your impression of the political will for that sort of thing at the moment?
There’s a great deal of political will. I think the chancellor’s made it very clear. Last year he announced a whole host of new projects, Crossrail being one of them. From 2015 we’ll have new trains and, from 2018, a brand-new station at London Bridge and a metro-style, high-frequency service across central London, which will relieve congestion on the Northern Line and provide enormous economic benefit to London and the nation. By then, Crossrail should also be calling at Farringdon, creating a new east-west link to places such as Heathrow, providing still further economic benefit.
I’m very keen for it – my constituents recognise the benefits of Thameslink and Crossrail meeting at Farringdon, as well as the benefits to those commuters who work in places in the City where, currently, they have to get on the Jubilee Line, which can be very overcrowded. I admit that it’s going to take some time, but there’s certainly a political appetite to make it happen.
Obviously constituents come to you with concerns now, but it’s possible the solution to their problem isn’t going to surface for two or three years down the line. How difficult is it to manage their delivery expectations?
They’ve endured three-and-a-half years of disruption: the Thameslink route has been closed every night and virtually every weekend across central London. Passengers have had to take the tube. There was the permanent closure of the Farringdon to Moorgate branch line in March 2009, and massive disruption at Blackfriars, as the station has been literally rebuilt around the service.
In spite of all that, I genuinely think most people are quite realistic. I read something the other day: there’s an African proverb that goes: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” And it’s not a facetious comment. If we’d done the things we’ve done in London five years ago, it would have been a lot cheaper.