The timetable for bringing one of the five disused Eurostar platforms at Waterloo Station into use by domestic trains has slipped, according to transport minister Paul Clark.
It is now nearly a year since the final Eurostar trains left Waterloo International for Paris and Brussels as the express rail service relocated its London terminal to St Pancras and the multi-million-pound terminal has lain empty ever since.
"Works to convert one platform of Waterloo International for domestic use will be completed by December 2008," rail minister Paul Clark told the House of Commons on Tuesday in response to a question from Twickenham MP Vincent Cable (Lib Dem). "The Department [for Transport] continues to work with South West Trains with a view to some existing services operating into and out of platform 20 from next year."
Mr Clark's answer represents a subtle shift from previous answers to parliamentary questions about the future of the quarter-mile-long platforms.
As recently as July former rail minister Tom Harris was telling MPs that platform 20 at Waterloo International would be ready to "accommodate a limited number of domestic services" from the annual railway timetable change this December, but Mr Clark's answer suggests that although work may be completed in 2008 no passenger trains will use the platform until the New Year.
Mr Clark went on to reiterate his predecessor's explanation of "the reconfiguration of all routes into Waterloo, with longer trains to meet capacity requirements". It is unlikely that the vacant platforms will be fully used by commuter trains for at least eight years. The exact status of Network Rail's plans to rebuild Waterloo Station with a new ground-level concourse is unclear given the downturn in the property market.
Rotherham Labour MP Dr Denis MacShane presumably was well-acquainted with the Eurostar terminal in his previous role as Europe minister and was therefore moved to ask Mr Clark this question:
"The minister may be aware that Waterloo International, designed by that great British architect Nick Grimshaw, is one of the finest steel and glass constructions – if not the world's best – since the Crystal Palace was built for the great exhibition in 1851. Alas, at present we can only see it from the top of the London Eye. As the minister contemplates what will happen to Waterloo International, will he arrange for one or two buildings around it to be demolished, so that we can actually see one of the finest bits of glass and steel architecture built in recent years?"
Dr MacShane's words suggest that he will not welcome P&O's proposals for three tall buildings on the site of Elizabeth House in York Road which will block views of the station roof from the London Eye.
In his reply Mr Clark said: "I am sure that the relevant authorities will imagine seeing Waterloo in the same splendid way as we now see the Barlow shed at St Pancras."
Wimbledon's Conservative MP Stephen Hammond added: "According to estimates provided by industry, it would cost only £10 million to bring the other four platforms into use, and it is costing half a million pounds to mothball them. Is this any way to treat commuters?"
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