Stevenage station’s fifth platform could be built in 2020, says transport minister

Picture: Great Northern services on the Hertford Loop will be replaced by busses from December this

Picture: Great Northern services on the Hertford Loop will be replaced by busses from December this year. - Credit: Archant

The Government has put pressure on Network Rail to try to make sure rail replacement bus services between Stevenage and Hertford North only have to be in place for just over two years – 18 months less than has previously been stated.

Stevenage railway station. Picture Harry Hubbard

Stevenage railway station. Picture Harry Hubbard - Credit: Archant

The bus services were due to come into force in May (now December) 2018, as new train timetables with faster mainline trains being introduced by rail operator Govia Thameslink mean there is no room in the schedule for trains to branch off to Hertford.

The problem will only be solved when a fifth platform is built at Stevenage railway station to accommodate these services.

Rail users, campaigners and three MPs have pressed the Government to act on the issue, and this paper has this week seen a letter from transport minister Jo Johnson to North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald saying the Government has demanded Network Rail bring forward the fifth platform.

Mr Johnson states that there is an opportunity to use an existing contractor to build it, thereby getting round the problem of going through a long tendering process.

He says Network Rail is currently assessing the possibility of a legal challenge if a tendering process is not completed.

If this is possible, the work could be carried out in May 2020 with completion in the middle of that year.

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Mr Johnson adds that rail replacement buses will now no longer have to be started until December 2018 – not May as originally planned – as Govia Thameslink has decided to phase in its new half hourly services between Cambridge and Brighton meaning there is still room for hourly services on the Hertford loop to Stevenage until December 2020.

This will go some way towards appeasing the campaigners, although there is still much opposition to the new timetable and its impact on existing services.

At a recent meeting of Letchworth Rail Users Group, commuters told this paper they couldn’t see the need for services to connect Cambridge and Peterborough to Brighton as the services are mainly used by London workers. They are also concerned by the disruption caused by London services using St Pancras station rather than King’s Cross, and the fact that journey times will in many cases increase.

The fifth platform was originally scheduled by Network Rail to be built by 2019, but was put back.

The firm claims this was done as part of cost-saving measures outlined in a rationalisation document called the Hendy report, but others have suggested that Stevenage First’s ambitious plans to rebuild the station – funding for which was not granted – caused the platform to be put back because of the uncertainty it could cause.