Thameslink Canal Tunnels open!

Thameslink Canal Tunnels open!

Thameslink’s Canal Tunnels opened today! The new north-south services began operating through the inter-linking tunnels between St. Pancras and Belle Isle junction near King’s Cross. Initially the service consists of just three trains a day in each direction. The full timetable will begin in May.

The staff were out in force today giving cakes and information sheets to passengers waiting on the platforms for the new services as well as on board the trains. The leaflets handed out declared: ‘Today we are giving you the first taste of an historic new Thameslink service between Cambridge and Brighton, and Peterborough and Horsham.’

Staff at Finsbury Park handing out special Thameslink cakes to celebrate the new services.

Thameslink cake – sumptious!

There was a delay to the Horsham train so I couldn’t take the trains I had planned catching – which were both southbound services to Horsham and Brighton (in between involving a return to FP from King’s Cross by tube.) Things however turned out okay as I was able to make a round trip between Finsbury Park and Blackfriars instead – although I missed the Brighton train. The 14.29 from Peterborough to Horsham was running late and departed Finsbury Park at 14.43pm.

A glimpse of the staff’s special train timetable for the new Thameslink services.

In the opposite direction it was Blackfriars to Peterborough. The train arrived early and waited a few minutes before departing at its booked time of 15.11pm. I took it as far as Finsbury Park. This last minute plan was thought out by comparing the timetables the staff at Finsbury Park showed me with the information I had on me. I just wanted to double check times as the quite late Horsham train had thrown my plans into disarray.

The full list of stops on the Finsbury Park – Horsham service. Faygate a surprise as just a handful of trains a day serve this remote station – in fact this service is the only Thameslink train to call here.

Notably the Horsham services are the only ones in the new temporary service to stop at Redhill. I’m sure few rail operatives dare mention this station especially after the weekend’s massive chaos where hundreds of irate and angry passengers waited hours for onwards bus connections to Gatwick airport…

All the new services are the Class 700’s 12 coach trains totalling 242metres (795ft.)These are longer than those for Crossrail which are just 200 metres (660ft.) Some Thameslink routes starting with the full timetable in May will however use just the eight coach trains.

One of Thameslink’s top staff joined in by handing out cakes on the train from Finsbury Park. Here he is with the Horsham train arriving.

A clear advantage of the new services is the time saving in being able to do new journeys (say Finsbury Park to London Bridge and points onwards in either direction.) We actually did Finsbury Park to Blackfriars in just thirteen minutes – the timetable says twenty. Thirteen is hugely impressive but even so, twenty remains a massive time saver in terms of crossing London. I am sure the services will be well used when people work out new connections that can be made and the time saved making these.

Its not everyday passengers get a service like this. Free cakes on a Thameslink train 🙂

The highlight of the journey is without a doubt the run through the (almost) brand new Canal Tunnels. These were built over ten years ago but only had track installed fairly recently. Quite a few enthusiasts were on board the train no doubt wanting to experience the new section between Belle Isle and St. Pancras.

Rounding the curve from the East Coast main lines towards the Canal Tunnels.

Just about to enter the Canal Tunnels. Note the crossover. Both tunnels are bidirectional.

It was unusual to experience a train direct from Finsbury Park to St Pancras. No need for the tube!

One thing that crossed my mind was the new Thameslink service is a sort of Crossrail preview. Not exactly as such, but the sense of riding through brand new tunnels on brand new trains. The tunnels on both lines are almost the same, being approx six metres in diameter – both use OHLE rail too. Oh yes and Thameslink’s trains will reach Abbey Wood in May, months before Crossrail’s!

In fact it turned out to be nearly four and half years before Crossrail/Elizabeth Line finally opened and that was in May 2022!

700134 on the late running Horsham train at Farringdon.

The train stopped briefly at St. Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink hence was about seven minutes down by Blackfriars. As already mentioned, I got the balancing service back north. This was the 15.11 from Blackfriars and the next picture shows it approaching the station. It had of course come from Horsham.

700130 approaching Blackfriars a few minutes early to form the 15.11 to Peterborough.

Peterborough – stopping at St. Pancras and Finsbury Park en route.

The northbound Canal Tunnel seems to have a slight kink in it. I could sense the train swerve a little and assume that point must be where the tunnel turns to pass straight underneath the older Thameslink tunnels. After this there’s a quite straight run and climb up towards Belle Isle. This could be seen through the train window after the aforementioned curve had eased out.

Passing through the old King’s Cross Thameslink station. Eleven years since it was closed.

I first used the Thameslink services back in 1988 when once again that was an introductory service before the full timetables began – thus today was a most interesting experience seeing the start of another new cross-London service.

Rejoining the East Coast lines at Belle Isle. The junction was installed about 2014.

Back at Finsbury Park – and the station staff have given the 15.28 for Peterborough the all clear. Note the route indicator which shows the train will use the fast lines as far as Stevenage.

During the day leaflets were being handed out about the new services. Here’s a couple of scans of those….