… but puts a block on Transport for London’s plans to run more suburban rail services in order to pilot closer integration.
SECRETARY of State for Transport Chris Grayling has blocked Transport for London’s aspirations to run rail services outside the capital, by opting to use the Southeastern franchise to pilot greater integration between train operators and Network Rail (see pages 8-9).
TfL has long sought powers to operate more rail services beyond its existing boundaries, and earlier this year the Government signed a prospectus on handing control to TfL of some suburban routes operated by Southeastern, Southern and South West Trains.
TfL claimed in a business case delivered in October that for every £1 invested in devolution proposals there would be £4.30 in benefits ( RAIL 812). These benefits were claimed to include more reliable services, better customer service and improved disabled access at no cost to central government.
Instead, Grayling says he will be “inviting” TfL to be more closely involved in development of the next Southeastern franchise, with a TfL representative seconded to the franchise specification team.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan reacted immediately to the announcement on December 6, saying: “The only proven way of improving services for passengers is giving control of suburban rail lines to TfL. This is why the Government and the previous Mayor published a joint prospectus earlier this year. There is crossparty support for this from MPs, assembly members, councils inside and out of London, and businesses and their representatives.
“Anything short of this simply won’t make the improvements desperately needed. It is a fact. TfL lines have more frequent trains, fewer delays and cancellations, more staff at stations and fares are frozen. We will keep pushing the Government to deliver the rail devolution they have promised and that is needed.”
A letter sent by Grayling (see right) to then Mayor of London Boris Johnson in April 2013 outlined his opposition to devolution ambitions, arguing that the current franchising system would “mean MPs and local authorities from outside the London area would have a remit over train services in our areas, which I would not like to lose”.
Bromley and Chislehurst MP Bob Neill, chairman of the Justice Select
Committee and former minister for London, said of Grayling after the leak of the letter: “I think he has compromised his position and should resign. It is quite clear that as far ago as 2013 he was asserting that he would oppose any devolution of rail franchises in London to a Labour mayor.
“In other words, he was doing it for a party political reason. It’s quite clear that when he came to the House of Commons and said he was doing so for financial reasons, that was not the truth. I think a minister who has done that is not fit to hold office.”
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson described the leaked letter as “a disgraceful revelation”, adding: “Labour’s Mayor of London put forward a plan which would see commuters enjoy a better service and frozen fares. We now see the Tories have blocked this progress for their own narrow political interest. It’s shameful and demonstrates that for all their bluster about caring about working people, they always put themselves first.”
See Wolmar, pages 56-57.
Southeastern 465044 arrives at London Bridge on November 29, passing a Southern Class 455. Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling has blocked Transport for London’s aspirations to take over South Eastern suburban operations in the next franchise.