A public inquiry into the Thameslink 2000 project involving four station redesigns in central London will open in late spring.
Designs by Terry Farrell & Partners, Alsop & Stormer, Tony Meadows Associates and Pascall + Watson will all come under the spotlight.
Officials at Railtrack are expecting passions to run high. More than 1,000 objections to the the £800 million plan to speed up the Bedford to Brighton commuter line have already been registered with the government. 'We have to expect a reasonably fiery public inquiry and a robust challenge. But anyone riding on a Thameslink train today can see the need for Thameslink 2000,' said general manager of Thameslink 2000, David Howarth. Thameslink 2000 aims to increase the number of trains passing through central London to 24 an hour, each way.
The designs for Thameslink stations at London Bridge, Blackfriars, Farringdon, St Pancras and a viaduct at Borough Market each meet very different briefs. Howarth believes that the architecture of the four stations cannot fruitfully be compared with the capital's most recently completed rail project, the Jubilee Line Extension.
'It is not like the jle where each station had an individual statement to make. On Thameslink 2000 our main aim was to assess the needs of each individual site. Some are through stations, some are termini and they have different needs. The designs hang together on a horses for courses basis,' he said.
Terry Farrell & Partners has redesigned London Bridge station, Tony Meadows is working on Borough Market and Farringdon, Pascall + Watson is creating a link between Thameslink at Kings Cross/St Pancras and the proposed channel tunnel rail link and Alsop & Stormer has designed the new Blackfriars Bridge station. Alsop & Stormer's plans have already been radically altered following submission for planning under the Transport and Works Act. Today it is at its third distinct design after a striking landmark design was ditched in favour of a lower-profile bridge which does not disrupt views of St Paul's Cathedral. It will now be almost half the height of the original design and the Thameslink station will also be integrated with the Blackfriars underground station. In the latest design the bridge's roof is made up of aluminium monocoque wings supported by a new steel superstructure built around the existing bridge. These wings will be assembled off-site by shipbuilders and will sport perforated undersides to absorb sound from the trains. The new design also adds an extra track, and an extra platform will be built overhanging the old bridge. The main structure will be made of grey painted steel.
The planned two-track viaduct through the Borough market area has already met with opposition from English Heritage. 'English Heritage didn't like what we're doing, but the object itself [the viaduct] is now well thought of,' Meadows said. 'The most vociferous opponents are the people who are at risk of losing their community,' he added.
Compensation packages for residents who will have to be relocated are currently under consideration by Railtrack. Railtrack hopes that the introduction of an architect to the viaduct project will ease its impact on the surrounding environment. Earlier British Rail-led designs had been engineer-designed with architectural finishes and details applied later.
Terry Farrell & Partners' redesign of London Bridge station focuses on two new tracks and a new concourse extending into the bus interchange with a twisting metal monopitch roof that will meet the existing Grade II listed train shed. The proposal has fully glazed elevations.
However, T P Bennett has been commissioned to produce a more wide-ranging masterplan for the area around London Bridge station. If this is approved by Railtrack and the planners, the Farrell plans may be scrapped.
The secretary of state for environment transport and the regions will now have the final say over the proposals which are due for completion in 2006. His deliberations could last until 2002.