The new Thameslink service will create space for 40,000 commuters a day and ease capacity on overcrowded Tube lines.
It includes a key section — Finsbury Park, St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink and Blackfriars — creating a quicker alternative to the Northern line to and from London Bridge. There will also be direct links to Gatwick. Six trains a day will run during the “curtain-raiser” phase, with services launching in full in May.
There will be one return service from Brighton to Cambridge, departing at 11.32am from Brighton and 2.14pm from Cambridge, and two between Horsham and Peterborough. These will depart at 10am and 1.30pm from Horsham and 9.46am and 1.17pm from Peterborough.
The ability to run through-trains has been made possible by opening a tunnel linking King’s Cross — where the Cambridge and Peterborough services terminated — and St Pancras, where the trains connect with Thameslink’s Bedford-to-Brighton line.
The changes are part of a £7 billion taxpayer-funded modernisation of a north-south line said to be as important as Crossrail. An extra 80 stations will join the Thameslink network, expanding it to 140 stations and improving conditions on what operator Govia Thameslink Railway calls “Britain’s most congested railway”.
However, passengers have complained that the new Thameslink trains are uncomfortable as a result of their space-saving “ironing board” seats.
Nick Brown, chief operating officer of GTR, which runs Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern and Gatwick Express, said: “This is a landmark moment and shows that GTR is delivering on its promise to give passengers a new, high-intensity service to a greatly expanded network of stations.
“We are massively boosting capacity for 40,000 more passengers each weekday peak this May, rising to 60,000 next year.”
Rail minister Jo Johnson said: “Passengers on the expanded Thameslink route are now starting to see the benefits of almost 10 years of hard work, with six new services.”@RossLydall