By Noel T. Braymer
The largest infrastructure project in Europe, at a cost of almost 19 billion dollars is now almost finished in London. Called Crossrail, with construction starting in 2009, it has over 12 miles of new double tracked tunnel in the heart of central London. With this tunnel will be 73 miles of rail service mostly using existing rail lines outside of London, connected by tunnel giving run through service from the west to the east of London. This includes 7 new underground train stations in the heart of London. Initial service is expected by December of 2018. By December 2019 a new branch line will be added serving Heathrow Airport to the Crossail matrix of stations. Many of the stations for Crossrail have connections to other regional rail services as well as to London’s Underground rail transit. Ridership is expected to be high. Nine car passenger trains capable of carrying 1,500 passengers will be run with 24 trains an hour in each direction in the Crossrail’s trunk line during peak periods with a top speed of 90 miles per hour.
So why are the planner in London so sure that such an expensive and complicated new project to link so many locations will generate so much ridership? This brings us to Thameslink. Thameslink is a runthrough rail service linking the areas north and south of London by crossing the Thames River in the heart of London. This service has been linking the area running the 140 miles between Bedford and Brighton with 68 stations since 1988. The key to this connections was the use of an 19th century tunnel in London called Snow Hill which hadn’t seen passenger service since World War I. Using this tunnel, Thameslink was able to operate run through service between the north and south of London on May 1988. The equipment has to have pantographs for running with high voltage AC power north of the Thames and use the third rail DC power south of the Thames. By 1998 Thameslink was carrying 28,000 passenger just during the morning peak travel period.
Since 1998 there have been several right of way improvements. With increasing train crowding, in 2007 the over $8 billion dollar Thameslink Progamme was started that will expand the service and increase the capacity of the line. This will include adding trains with up to 12 cars and raising track capacity on the trunk line to 24 trains an hour, which is a train every 2 to 3 minutes in each directions during peak periods. This work will also allow additional service to more stations and other rail lines north and south of London.
One thing Thameslink already does is serve Gatwick and Luton airports which serve the London area. Thameslink will also connect with Crossrail at a joint station at Farrington in central London. This will allow passengers to transfer between Thameslink and Crossrail to all the other stations on both services. This will make it possible for passengers in the greater London area to travel by train to three major airports in London: Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton.
Building runthrough service in most major cities is not cheap. This is because in Europe and North America when railroads where first being built, they were often built by different private companies which terminated their lines on the edges of downtown where land and construction was fairly cheap. Over time development came to the areas around the stations. One of the few exceptions to this was the State owned railroad of Germany. Starting in the late 19th Century, Germany usually built a main or head station in every major city that had connections which radiated to other parts of Germany and Europe.
How does this relate to California? Major construction is expected in the near future at Los Angeles Union Station. This will include construction of new runthrough tracks and a new much larger concourse to be built under the station platforms and tracks. With runthrough tracks it will be possible to run trains to more stations with less need to wait for connecting services. This will result in greater demand for more rail passenger service and greater ridership if done right. It may be some time before we see trains running every 2 to 3 minutes at Los Angeles Union Station on a single track. But Los Angeles will see the effects of greater rail ridership and increasing development which is already underway around downtown Los Angeles, particularly around Union Station. This is happening for much less money and disruption than in London.