Just days after MPs left a meeting “frustrated” with rail operators over delays and overcrowding, Transport for London has unveiled a landmark agreement to take over the capital’s suburban rail network, reaching into the Home Counties.
TfL is promising more frequent and reliable train services and more comfortable conditions for passengers by bringing the services under the umbrella of the popular Overground network.
Its reach would go beyond London and reach into places such as Sevenoaks, Croydon, Dartford, Hertford and Chessington, working in tandem with the Department for Transport bringing to them metro-style frequencies and greater strategic and co-ordinated transport planning.
The integration will also mean simpler fare structures and information sources and the map of the network will turn orange – reflecting the title of a Centre For London report which advocated the take-over only last week .
Mayor of London Boris Johnson told the Evening Standard : “By working closely together and taking on these new services, we’re going to emulate the success of the London Overground and give the entire capital and surrounding areas the services they truly deserve.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “We are committed to making journeys better across London and the south east, and this new partnership represents a huge opportunity to transform travel by putting passengers where they should be – at the heart of the rail network.”
Commuter services running from Cannon Street, Charing Cross, Moorgate, Victoria, Waterloo and London Bridge would all be transferred under the plans. The move will come as a good news to passengers in south London who have endured a poor service since upgrade work on London Bridge began – although the transfer will take some years to complete.
The routes will gradually be taken over as the franchises of the rail operators come to an end which means the first routes will be Southeastern’s in 2018, followed by Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern services in 2021. If South West Trains “break” clause is invoked, the target date would be 2019.
While TfL will continue its policy of investing profits into services, there will be a significant call on resources to bring the network and rolling stock up to scratch.
Responding to the announcement of Rail Prospectus, the new partnership between the DfT and TfL, Ben Rogers, director at Centre For London, said: “Giving the mayor control over London’s suburban rail is a big step forward. It could improve the journeys of millions of Londoners and help generate new homes and jobs south of the Thames.
“However if we are going to meet the growing pressures on South London’s public transport system we will need to double capacity in its rail network. This will require major investment, from Central government, beyond what can be funded from TfL and business contributions.
“Without spending on signalling and train management systems, new trains and better platform management, London could still grind to a halt.”
Valerie Shawcross, chairwoman of the London Assembly transport committee said: “TfL has managed its Overground networks very effectively, so the majority of commuters would be happy to see them take control.
“It was clearly a no-brainer. The Government will have scored a big hit with passengers by agreeing to devolve additional rail franchises as they come up for renewal and I’m glad they finally listened to some common sense.”
Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan said: "While today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, it will do little to address the anger and frustration of commuters who deserve action now.
"The Tories have been in Government for six years and City Hall for eight and have failed to listen to commuters. Londoners deserve an end to their rail misery now, not more delays."
His Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith said: “Millions of people who live and work in Greater London rely on suburban rail services. Too often those services are not reliable or frequent enough because they’re not accountable to the people who actually use them. By giving the mayor the power over these services higher standards can be set and improvements delivered."
• Meanwhile in more good news for London's beleaguered commuters planned strikes by Tube drivers are set to be suspended after London Underground bosses made an offer on pay in the dispute over the Night Tube.
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