Thameslink granted planning permission

A £3.5 billion project to improve rail links to London and beyond moved is a step closer to reality yesterday.

A £3.5bn project to improve rail links to London and beyond moved is a step closer to reality yesterday.

The Thameslink project, which hopes to double passenger capacity from west Norfolk and Cambridgeshire across some of the capital's busiest stretches of railway, has been granted planning permission by the government.

It will also create direct routes across the capital to key destinations, such as Gatwick airport, removing the need for passengers travelling from the area to change trains or cross London by tube.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: "Rail passengers in King's Lynn are among those to benefit from the quicker and easier journeys the Thameslink Project will deliver.

"This is particularly important given the expected population growth in the area in the next 20 years."

Network Rail chief executive John Armitt added: "This is a landmark decision that underlines growing confidence in Network Rail to deliver major improvements on Britain's railways.

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"Passengers want easier, more frequent, direct and comfortable journeys. The Thameslink scheme offers exactly this."

The progress was welcomed by independent rail passenger watchdog Passenger Focus as a 'much needed and long overdue step'.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said: "Passengers have been promised improvements as part of the Thameslink 2000 scheme for for years and with any luck we're now edging a bit closer to those improvements becoming a reality.

"Overcrowding is already a big issue during the peak on these routes, with only 42pc of commuters telling us they are satisfied with the room to sit and stand, so we welcome these plans as a way of making things happen.

"Of course, the finances still have to be worked out but we hope this announcement paves the way for the scheme to get the final go-ahead soon so that passengers can at last see the benefits."

The project must now secure funding before work can begin and changes will not come into force until at least 2012.