The UK has the oldest railway network in the world and a lively new exhibition Untangling the Tracks, which opened yesterday (Friday 24 May), traces the history of the Thameslink route from 1836 through to the recent £7bn modernisation programme which has transformed the route and untangled the tracks.
The Thameslink route links destinations from the south coast through London to the east of England. Its origins are in the London, Chatham and Dover Railway and at the time was the only train company allowed into the heart of London. Thameslink trains still follow the same route today, but they now carry tens of millions of passengers a year, presenting challenges which would be unimaginable to the Victorians who founded and ran the original railway on this route.
Visitors to London Transport Museum
can now discover how the Thameslink Programme a government funded collaboration between Network Rail, train operators Govia Thameslink Railway and Southeastern, and train builders Siemens ensured millions of passengers could continue to travel on the Thameslink route, while undertaking a huge infrastructure project to transform and modernise an aging railway and its stations. New trains now run on untangled tracks into a completely rebuilt London Bridge station.
This latest exhibition looks at the challenges of communicating major infrastructure projects to large audiences in creative ways. Historically, the art of the poster has always been an important medium to talk to passengers. In the exhibition, vintage London transport posters show how rail companies have a long history of using this kind of channel to tell passengers about disruption, big upgrades to stations or new services. The Thameslink Programme follows this tradition by creating eye-catching imagery such as its spaghetti on a fork poster to express the idea that it can reduce future delays by untangling the tracks.
Visitors are invited to have a go at solving an Untangling the Tracks puzzle by navigating trains into the right platforms. The game is inspired by the impressive engineering of the Bermondsey dive-under, a new structure built on the rail approach to London Bridge station. This section of track is more than 150 years old and was one of the most complex layouts in the world. Like a motorway flyover, the Bermondsey dive-under allows Thameslink and Southern trains serving Sussex to pass over Southeastern trains to and from Kent. This innovative engineering solution removed a bottleneck which caused delays when trains had to pause to let others criss-cross in front of them.
Also, on display are miniature models of the central London stations which have been transformed, including Blackfriars station which is the only station to span the river Thames. Solar panels in its 250-metre-long roof means 50 per cent of the stations energy can be produced in an environmentally-friendly way. London Bridge was also completely redeveloped. Architects had to work carefully around its listed features. The construction of the Borough Viaduct, through the historic Borough Market, doubled the number of tracks heading west out of London Bridge station. The Victorian market roof was taken off site and preserved, before being put back in place when the viaduct was complete.
The protected sight lines of St. Pauls Cathedral had to be taken into consideration during the Blackfriars station rebuild. The biggest challenge was keeping these stations open to the public while major building work was carried out. A total of 20 stations were improved as part of the Thameslink Programme.
Train fans will love the giant image of the new class 700 train with cut-away sections to show how these trains improve the experience for passengers. Visitors will also be able to experiment with a class 700 train model, testing the trains payload capacity to see if they can get their passengers to spread out evenly through the carriages.
Siemens Mobility, a leading global company, was commissioned to build 115 longer, more spacious trains which started running in 2016. On board computers now control the trains resulting in safe and high-frequency services.
Once visitors have explored the exhibition they will be asked the key question: is short-term disruption worth long-term improvement?
Sam Mullins, Director for London Transport Museum, said: This new exhibition shows what a mammoth task it is to rebuild our ageing central London stations, untangle tracks and safe-guard the heritage of our historic buildings while keeping services running for thousands of passengers a day. The Thameslink Programme and its partners have achieved a feat of engineering and we are sure our visitors will enjoy discovering the secrets behind this complex Untangling the Tracks project.
Paul Harwood, Director of Route Investment at Network Rail, said: This exciting exhibition shows how the Thameslink Programme follows in the great tradition of engineering innovation and excellence which created the rail network in the first place. Everyone involved in the programme has played a part in solving complex problems, while ensuring passengers could still travel. I am sure visitors will have great fun trying to untangle the tracks and the exhibition will hopefully help inspire the next generation of engineers.
Patrick Verwer, Chief Executive for Govia Thameslink Railway, said: The Thameslink Programme has quite simply transformed the service we offer passengers, allowing us to run longer 12-coach trains at higher frequencies across a massively expanded Thameslink network that includes new services between Cambridge and Brighton. Already that means we have space for 50,000 more passengers into London each morning and evening rush hour.