Ministers have hailed the early delivery of a new platform at Stevenage rail station, which was originally due to be delivered in 2018.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris had today ‘announced’ that rail passengers now have more frequent and reliable services as well as better long-distance connections thanks to the new £40m platform and track.
(l-r) Ed Akers, Network Rail; Stephen McPartland MP; Chris Heaton-Harris; Steve White, GTR COO
Officials said construction work on the project has been accelerated and delivered more than a year ahead of ‘the revised schedule’, after Network Rail worked with train operator GTR to accelerate the project.
The ‘revised schedule’ was in fact a revision of a stated intention to deliver the new platform during Control Period 5 (CP5, 2014-19).
The Stevenage Turnback, as it is officially known, was listed in Network Rail’s CP5 Enhancements Delivery Plan and originally planned for completion in May 2018, but was delayed until CP6 under the replanning exercise carried out by Sir Peter Hendy in 2015.
Network Rail then set a date of autumn 2021, which was subsequently brought forward to finish in May this year. Work began in early 2019 but completion was delayed by several weeks because the coronavirus limited the number of people who could work at the station at one time.
The dedicated fifth platform allows Great Northern trains from the Hertford North line, known as the Hertford Loop, to terminate and go back towards London, creating space on the existing tracks for more Thameslink trains.
These ‘loop’ services previously needed to run empty north to turn around at Letchworth Garden City on the East Coast main line and could cause delays to other train services on the main line or be delayed by them.
The newly restored train service running between the new platform at Stevenage and the Hertford Loop will be an improved all-day, twice-hourly service between Stevenage and Hertford North, giving passengers from the loop better connections with the fast main line services which stop at Stevenage.
The new Platform 5 includes a passenger lift and stairs to an extended station footbridge along with two waiting rooms, three sets of seating, a help point and ticket machine.
Despite the second delay, Mr Heaton-Harris said: ‘Our ambition is not just to deliver more punctual journeys, but to deliver major projects punctually as well.
‘Thanks to the hard work of Network Rail and GTR who have worked tirelessly to accelerate the project, we have reached an important milestone in our ambitious £1.2bn East Coast upgrade, which will bring improved connections, faster journeys, thousands of extra seats per day and more choice for passengers.’
The works also included construction of almost 2km of new railway line, a set of track points, earthworks, track drainage and alterations to existing signalling infrastructure.
Additionally, new overhead line equipment has been installed and two existing overbridge structures (Broadhall Bridge and Six Hills Bridge) modified.