Hammond backs rail at Kings Cross event

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has confirmed that the new government will move ahead with plans to build a high-speed rail line in England and to electrify the Great Western main line. He has also given guarded support to Crossrail.

Rail has a critical role to play in delivering the government's commitment to developing Britain's regional economies and making the economy greener, Hammond said. A line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds would be the first phase of a national high-speed network, and should link into the Heathrow Airport complex to provide a proper transport interchange, taking people off short-haul air flights, he continued.

The £16 billion Crossrail project looks set to come under close scrutiny, though, as the Transport Secretary said he would be meeting with London Mayor Boris Johnson to discuss ways "to deliver affordability and maximise taxpayer value for money".

Hammond was speaking at the official opening of a new platform at Kings Cross, marking a crucial milestone in the £500 million redevelopment of the London terminal. He said: “This new platform is just one part of a project that will transform this station, benefiting the thousands of passengers who use it each day. King’s Cross is one of our key railway hubs and it’s vital it works better, looks better and leaves a good impression on the people who pass through it – including those anticipated during the 2012 Olympics.”

'Platform zero' has been built on what was for many years a taxi rank at the eastern side of the station, beneath the listed Eastern Range buildings. Ian Fry, King’s Cross programme director for Network Rail, explained that its creation involved not only the 300-metre platform but also four new switches and crossings and works on track, sidings and overhead line, all delivered without delays to network operations.

The addition of the new platform means Network Rail can begin working on the station’s existing platforms, which will be taken out of service two by two for a 'heavy refurbishment' that will include improved drainage and new tactile surfaces. At the same time some gauge problems with the track and catenary will be corrected.

The most significant part of the redevelopment is a new western concourse, due for completion in time for the 2012 Olympics, which will be three-times the size of the current single-storey concourse, providing more capacity and better facilities for passengers and improved links to London Underground services and the adjacent St Pancras International station.

After the Olympics the existing concourse will be demolished, allowing Network Rail to restore the grade 1 listed station façade to its former glory and create a large open piazza at the front of the station. Architects Stanton Williams have been appointed to work on the design of the new public square.

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