I wrote back in September about how TfL’s takeover of Southeastern was looking doubtful. Click here to read. The signs were starting to look bad as far back as the summer. It now looks even worse thanks to comments from Tory MP Gavin Barwell.
Unfortunately no media outlets really looked into it and raised the issue to greater prominence when the dangers signs were flashing. The Standard, BBC London, even local press like the News Shopper all overlooked the worrying signs. Greenwich Council and others also didn’t start to raise it publicly.
Approval is needed soon. TfL have long said they need about two years to prepare a takeover, and the franchise end date was likely to be extended to November 2018 from its original June 2018 end if they were to make it. That original June 2018 end date was itself a short-term extension from 2014 due to the DfT messing up awarding other franchises.
TfL submitted a business case recently, whereby ALL costs would be borne by them and not the DfT, who must approve it, and so it was looking likely that the Autumn Statement in November would be a big date to look for an announcement to meet the two year requirement. And none was made.
To his credit Tom Edwards at BBC London did enquire and received some worrying comments from Croydon MP Gavin Barwell:
Clearly this is a nonsense by the DfT. To say this when its worked wonders all over London and won’t cost the DfT a penny? Passenger numbers after TfL took over Greater Anglia in 2015 went up 27%. New trains were ordered within weeks.
You can see the BBC London article here. “Joint working” seems to have been laughed at by many since this claim was made and is a proxy for the DfT retaining control (and we know what that means, and it isn’t good).
Is this Transport Secretary Chris Grayling playing silly political games against Mayor Sadiq Khan at the expense of south east London and parts of Kent? After years of opposition even Tory Kent County Council are on board. The previous Tory Transport Secretary and Mayor were also very supportive.
Local Tory MPs will also come out looking terrible after this. Giving more years to current operator GoVia, or another group like First, will not go down well to say the least. It’s very unlikely the Department for Transport, if they retain power over awarding a franchise, will adopt a TfL fare freeze (so ever greater rises than most of London until 2020), or staff stations from first to last train for safety and reducing fare evasion, nor will the DfT go as far in ordering new stock or upgrading existing trains given their record dating back 10 years.
Local Tory MPs will suffer if a takeover is blocked by a Tory Transport Minister. Their own colleague has stitched them up. MPs like Bob Neill and David Evenett, who have supported a takeover, are left looking very silly. They may feel that Labour is no danger right now. Who knows the situation in four years? Letting the current rail mess continue will hurt them. Their current silence on any questions asked is not looking good.
High Speed 1
One other potential factor is that High Speed 1 is a money sink. The franchise operator has to pay very high fees to operate on it. Removing suburban routes from Southeastern would make finances look even worse. But it does almost nothing for south east London and places like Dartford. It seems these areas may miss out on benefits enjoyed throughout much of London due to something that it gains nothing from.
It’s hard to see a whole swath of things happening if the DfT stay in charge. Issues such as ensuring a full 12-carriage capable network by procuring more stock, rebuilding Woolwich Dockyard or new technology on existing trains allowing them to stop. Or refurbishing grotty and tired 25 year old trains. Or making the railway safe and staffed to prevent widespread fare evasion and increasing safety. Or having fares the same as most of London and not far more expensive.
And that’s before we even get to utilising land around stations to help with the housing crises. Leaving the Department for Transport and Whitehall in charge of franchising will likely be a massive opportunity lost for south east London and Kent.