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Rail passengers have been warned to prepare for unprecedented disruption on journeys into London this August, with thousands of trains cancelled or delayed as engineering works closes some of Britain’s biggest stations.
The August bank holiday will see Network Rail carry out the biggest weekend of engineering works it has ever planned, worth £133m.
Services from all directions into the capital will be disrupted over the bank holiday weekend. Euston will close entirely on 26-27 August, affecting some services on the West Coast main line to Birmingham and cities north to Glasgow. London Bridge and Charing Cross will be closed to Southeastern services for the entire following week.
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London Paddington and Liverpool Street will also be affected, with only King’s Cross, St Pancras, Victoria and Marylebone operating normally in the capital, although all are expected to be busier than usual to accommodate alternative journeys.
Mark Carne, the Network Rail chief executive, said that he wanted the public to plan ahead and be aware that there would be major changes to many services around the capital, although holidaymakers could be reassured that all airport trains will run as normal.
However, the worst of the disruption will be felt throughout the month by commuters into Waterloo. The UK’s busiest station will have about half its platforms closed between 5 and 28 August.
Many South West trains will not run and passengers have been warned to expect “very difficult” journeys, including queues of up to half an hour just to enter suburban stations on the network, such as Wimbledon and Surbiton, during summer rush hours.
Network Rail said the work would bring significant benefits to millions of passengers, allowing longer, more spacious and modern trains to run on the busiest part of the network.
Carne said that many projects were “round the final bend and in the home straight”, after years of engineering work. More than 17,000 people would be employed by Network Rail over the bank holiday weekend to meet milestones on Crossrail and the Thameslink programme, he said. “Reaching these major milestones means that passengers will be one step closer to experiencing real benefits by the end of this year with more to come in 2018-19, including more than 170,000 new seats for the daily commute into London – a 20% increase.”
According to Network Rail, the combined extra rail capacity is enough to take more than 140,000 cars off the road – equivalent to a three-lane traffic jam from London to Cardiff.
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Carne said that while most work was now conducted at night with minimal disruption, the projects needed several uninterrupted days to complete critical work. Network Rail faced intense criticism in recent years after Christmas holiday engineering works overran, leading some politicians to call for such works to be carried out at other times.
But Carne said Network Rail had “done work to examine that assumption” and concluded that bank holiday weekends were the best option. He said: “We know there is never a good time to disrupt services to get this work done, but it does make sense to do so when fewer people are travelling. Bank holidays and the summer months can see up to 50% fewer passengers using the railway.”
South West Trains passengers have been warned for some months that many peak-time services will not run while engineers extend Waterloo’s platforms for bigger trains. Some stations on the network will be closed entirely while others, as far from the capital as Winchester and Basingstoke, will be “exceptionally busy” with significantly fewer trains in operation.
The South Western franchise will also change hands from Stagecoach to new operators First-MTR during the upheaval, which Carne said was “not ideal”. He said that emergency maintenance teams would be on standby in case other problems occurred to further deplete the train service, adding: “We all know it’s going to be very tough ... There are going to be days when the service is very difficult for people.”
The closure of Euston is to allow the first major engineering work to take place for HS2, the controversial £55bn high-speed railway.
A month of delays on the route from London Paddington to Wales will also start on 19 August, with engineering work between Swindon and Bristol Parkway forcing fast trains to divert with replacement buses on some services.
The affected stations
London Waterloo: Half closed 5-28 August, with “significant reductions” to South West services.
London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross: No Southeastern services between 26 August and 2 September, while London Bridge and the surrounding railway is rebuilt for Thameslink.
Cannon Street and Blackfriars: No Southeastern trains on 26-27 August.
London Euston: No trains at all on 26-27 August, due to enabling works for HS2.
London Liverpool Street: No trains to/from Shenfield/Barking on 27-28 August, due to work for the new Crossrail or Elizabeth line services.
This article first appeared on www.theguardian.com
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