Keep London on track
Chairman of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy. In a new series Philippa Stockley talks to London’s most powerful people
SIR Peter Hendy has never lost his enthusiasm for trains and buses and still drives his own beloved Sixties Routemaster around London. A large photo of the bus hangs in his office, curiously like a farmer’s picture of a prize bull, while behind his seat stands a vast Fifties framed poster of a steam engine.
Happy in his work even after a 42-year career in transport, including more than nine years as Transport for London Commissioner, Hendy is a doer who thrives on new projects. The straight talking for which he is famous, even adding the odd unrepentant expletive, makes him likeable and believable.
He has been chairman of Network Rail — which owns, operates and develops the railway infrastructure and devises the national rail timetable — since 2015. Since July, he has also chaired the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which is responsible for transforming the 560-acre former Olympic Park into — its website proclaims — “a dynamic heart for east London”.
This includes 24,000 new homes by 2031, plus a whole new cultural quarter with two university campuses. There’s already the stadium, West Ham United FC’s new home, and busy Westfield Stratford City shopping destination. “I knew that area before the Olympics. We parked loads of buses where the stadium is now. It was a dump,” he says.
“Part of my job is to make sure that the chief executive makes it all happen.” He answers to bigwigs — at Network Rail to the Secretary of State for Transport, and at the LLDC to London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Despite being honoured with a CBE in 2006 for keeping London running after the 2005 bombings, and a knighthood in 2013 for keeping London running during the Olympics, he comes over as a regular bloke. As he sits on a bench in bustling Waterloo station, no one has the faintest idea who the man in the rumpled black linen jacket is.
THE RAILWAY EXPANDS
A few times a year, Hendy drives his Sixties Routemaster to take architects, developers and planners on tours of new and ongoing developments in London, so they can exchange ideas.
Born in Hayes, Middlesex 64 years ago and raised in Ealing, he went to Latymer Upper School on a council scholarship, before a degree in economics and geography at Leeds, then into what was London Transport, as a graduate trainee. “I’ve always been endlessly fascinated by transport and loved travelling by train and bus.
“I ran TfL under two mayors, and what I learnt about transport is that what’s important is not how it works, but what it does. The reason people invest in it is because it creates economic growth, jobs, and homes.”
Network Rail’s domain is immense. It owns 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and all the stations, and it runs all London’s major hubs. Last year, we made 1.65 billion journeys on the network. Now, the railway is in the thick of the most ambitious expansion and development programme since the Victorian era, a new golden age.
“Passenger numbers doubled in the past 20 years. Our challenge is to keep capacity growing. Most people are travelling to and from work, or for business. You mustn’t get to the stage where people can’t get on, or can’t get to work.
“It is the biggest programme of investment since nationalisation in 1948. In the next 12-18 months on Thameslink, Londoners will see 24 trains an hour. Between St Pancras and Blackfriars/London Bridge, trains will be driven automatically, with a driver present. Outside that area, the driver will take over.
“Thameslink goes up to Bedford and Cambridge and King’s Lynn; out to the East Coast main line, and south to Gatwick, Brighton and Eastbourne. This will affect a significant number of people. The trains won’t be faster, but because there are more of them with greater capacity, waiting and travel times will reduce. At Waterloo, the ongoing programme involves making longer platforms and a new fleet of trains that will improve capacity 30 per cent, while the new Intercities to Bristol and Cardiff start running next Monday [October 16].”
NEW COMMUTER STATIONS
“In the next 18 months, we’re bringing a whole new level of connectivity to London, which will touch at least half of Londoners’ rail journeys — Croydon, Romford, Ilford, Slough, Elephant and Castle will all benefit.” Even Crossrail is in the mix, as some of its tracks are owned by Network Rail. “It will transform east-west travel. When Crossrail was authorised in 2007 I was there. So I hope I get invited to the opening,” Hendy smiles.
“London Bridge is a really good example of what large investment does. It was bombed in the Second World War, and ever since I was a boy, it was a wreck.
“The front was corrugated iron; the Tooley Street frontage was hideous; but the new Tooley Street frontage [designed by international architecture firm Grimshaw] is on the way, with great shops. High street shops are struggling, but station shopping is booming. We work hard at pulling in the right retailers.
“One of the railway’s jobs is to get people to London so they can create wealth. And better supply and better connectivity does good things to the housing market.”
12,000 NEW HOMES
Network Rail has an ambitious target of building 12,000 homes on its land by 2020, and in London, a just-announced package of small plots should provide 300 homes. “We’re making a concerted effort to release our land for homes, making it easier for developers to build on and around railway land, and build affordable housing.
“Network Rail has four objectives set out by government: to look after passengers and freight; to give value; regeneration, and housing. On that front, we’re looking at a big scheme with Capco at Clapham Junction. It needs a complete rebuild, and we’re looking at putting housing on a deck over the top of it. These things take years — but if you don’t start them, they will never happen.”
Challenge: Peter Hendy’s 42-year transport career includes nine years running TfL
£1bn revamp: London Bridge is being turned into a “destination station”