DIRECT trains from Huntingdon and St Neots to south London, Gat-wick Airport and the south coast – first prom-ised nearly two decades ago – look set to become reality by 2011. In last week s railways White Paper, new Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly gave th
DIRECT trains from Huntingdon and St Neots to south London, Gat-wick Airport and the south coast - first prom-ised nearly two decades ago - look set to become reality by 2011.
In last week's railways White Paper, new Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly gave the go-ahead for the £5.5billion Thameslink 2000 project.
It will deliver 16 trains an hour, up to 12 carriages long, through London by 2011 and half as many again by 2015, when the scheme is finished.
The scheme includes a link to the Thameslink route from the East Coast main line that was first mooted in the late 1980s and was due, as the project's name suggests, to have been completed at least seven years ago.
The current Thameslink route carries trains from Bedford and Luton on the Midland main line by way of London Bridge to destinations including Brighton, Gatwick Airport and Sevenoaks in Kent.
The new scheme will add Cambridge and Peterborough to the network, as well as Huntingdon and St Neots.
Operators First Capital Connect promise a fleet of new trains for the extended service.
Although the present fleet of class 365 trains was designed to operate on both the north of London 25kV overhead line system and the 750V third rail network south of the capital, the coaches are too long to negotiate one of the curves in a tunnel under London.
The news of the Thamselink development was welcomed by rail campaigners Railfuture, formerly the Railway Development Society.
Nick Dibben, secretary of the East Anglian branch, who lives in St Ives and commutes from Huntingdon station, told The Hunts Post: "It's great news - and about time, too."
He said much of the work needed to provide longer trains for Huntingdonshire capacity could be included in early work on the scheme, such as longer platforms and beefed-up power supplies for 12-car trains by 2011.
"There will be more seats on longer trains and more destinations. Some commuters from here work in places such as Croydon, and this will be a real benefit for them," he said.
Mr Dibben also welcomed the introduction of ticket gates at Huntingdon station, aimed at eliminating ticket fraud.
"The good news is that, because of the gates, we have more staff on the platforms."
The Thameslink project was one of half-a-dozen major schemes included in British Rail's £10-12billion 1991 document Future Rail - the Next Decade.
Like the other projects, including the 300km/hr Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the east-west Crossrail link in London, it was shelved because of privatisation and then stayed on the shelf to prop up Railtrack's share price.
The company's successor, Network Rail, is putting the finishing touches to the final phase of CTRL that will enable passengers from Huntingdon and St Neots to step across the road from King's Cross on to trains to Paris and Brussels from a new international station at St Pancras from November 14.
On that day, the present Thameslink station at King's Cross will close, with all through services going via the new St Pancras Station.