Transport for London to control capital’s suburban rail network
21 January 2016
Transport for London (TfL) is set to take control of the capital's suburban rail network in a bid to improve services.
Responsibility for deciding who will operate trains running mostly within London will be transferred from the Department for Transport (DfT) to the capital’s transport bosses when existing franchise agreements end, it has been proposed.
A new partnership between the DfT and TfL – which is accountable to the mayor of London – will aim to ensure there are more frequent trains and increased capacity.
But critics of the plan said the changes would take too long to be implemented and would not be effective without more investment.
Martin Abrams, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said waiting several years for franchises to come up for renewal “will seem like an eternity for commuters as they continue to suffer with often dire services”.
Labour’s candidate for mayor Sadiq Khan predicted the plans “will do little to address the anger and frustration of commuters who deserve action now”.
Passengers in south London have suffered from severe disruption on many occasions during the past 18 months, due to engineering work at London Bridge, signal failures, overcrowding and a shortage of drivers.
The proposals, which will be discussed by officials over the next few months, mean suburban services operating into and out of stations such as Waterloo, Victoria, London Bridge and Charing Cross would be brought into the London Overground network, created in 2007.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin accepted that towns and cities outside the capital may be concerned about TfL controlling rail services in their area.
“That is one of the stumbling blocks,” he told the Press Association.
“I would want Kent County Council – if it was Kent – to be very much involved with TfL in designing the service.
“I don’t want to see services diminish for people outside London who don’t feel they’ve got a voice with the mayor.”
Under the proposals, TfL will take responsibility for services that start and end in or near London when current franchises are up for renewal.
The Southeastern franchise ends in 2018, while Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern’s London services would not be transferred until 2021.
The South West franchise is currently being negotiated but responsibility for commissioning its services in the capital could be taken over in 2019.
The plan means more than 80% of stations would have a train at least every 15 minutes – up from 67% – and could lead to more regular services via Clapham Junction, south-east London and Kent.
Transport bosses are taking action in a bid to cope with increasing demand for rail travel as London’s population is set to rise from 8.6 million today to 10 million by 2030.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson described the launch of the new arrangement as a “seminal moment” but warned that “we’re not going to deliver miracles overnight”.
He went on: “The onus is on TfL not to disappoint Londoners.
“We did a great job with the Overground, we’ve got to keep improving those suburban rail networks.
“Some people at the moment feel they’re being let down and we’ve got to make it better.”
Some 94% of Overground trains arrived at their final destination within five minutes of their scheduled time in the past 12 months, according to Network Rail.
Trains operated by Govia Thameslink Railway – the company responsible for the Southern franchise – had a punctuality figure of just 81%, while Southeastern recorded 88%.
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said the industry would work with the DfT and TfL to “make the best possible use of scarce capacity on our network”.
Ben Rogers, director at the Centre for London think-tank, insisted “major investment” is needed to meet the growing pressures on south London’s public transport system.
“Without spending on signalling and train management systems, new trains and better platform management, London could still grind to a halt,” he warned.
TSSA union general secretary Manuel Cortes said “improvement in services will remain a pipe dream” without more funding.
Photo from Jonathan Brady / PA Wire