As many will have heard, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling sadly, yet predictably, blocked TfL taking over the lamentable Southeastern metro rail network. This was despite near universal support across the political spectrum. Even Kent County Council, long suspicious of a TfL takeover of London area commuter trains, were won over and supportive such were the safeguards in place. Yet it didn’t stop Grayling trotting out discredited lines about other counties not wanting TfL taking over.
TfL had promised to fund all costs involved. It now appears that Chris Grayling blocked purely due to silly political games, which brought out even his fellow Tory MP Bob Neill (MP for Bromley and Chislehurst) calling for him to resign.
Grayling continues on so far. A one man disaster zone who leaves wreckage wherever he goes, he has failed in pretty much every political role he’s had, yet as he supported Theresa May for Tory leader he is now in charge of Transport and failing passengers across south east London and areas of Kent such as Dartford.
And let’s not forget his expenses antics. He used taxpayers money to renovate a central London flat, which had a mortgage funded by taxpayers, despite living just 17 miles from London. There’s a lot more damning info on the man at the telegraph website here.
He was also Justice Minister from 2012 to 2015 and oversaw a period that has led to the Prison Service going into meltdown and now requiring £1.3 billion to fix.
So with Grayling and the Department for Transport retaining control and deciding the remit of future franchises again (fares, train numbers, timetables, staffing etc pretty much all come from Whitehall and the Department for Transport and it’s those that TfL would’ve taken charge of) you can wave goodbye to fares matching up with most of London (i.e they’re cheaper than SE charges) and they’ll be no fare freeze to 2020.
You can also bid farewell to first-to-last train station staffing to prevent fare evasion and anti-social behaviour. The chances of many additional trains, internal refurbishments, closer working with other organisations to provide housing by stations and even little things like cleaning and advertising are much lessened. Stagnation at best is probably the best “hope”.
The DfT have continually failed the area as the specifier of rail services. I very much doubt that will change now. Maximum income comes first for them – not passengers. And the franchise operator wants their profit margin too. Defenders of the system claim it’s only 3%. That’s still many millions each year not being used for staff or procuring additional trains.
Some local MPs, who appear to be little more than lackeys have supported this about turn and are happy to consign constituents to higher fares and worse services. These include Bexleyheath and Crayford MP David Evenett and Sidcup and Old Bexley MP James Brokenshire. Mr Brokenshire actually tried to become an MP in six areas and failed each time before someone would have him. Bexleyheath and Crayford was that place.
The areas he tried and failed to become a candidate included Witham in Essex, North East Cambridgeshire and Hornchurch and Upminster. Clearly a great lover of Bexleyheath and Crayford and fighting hard for the area’s passengers.
TfL over the river
So lets see what we could have won. TfL took over some Greater Anglia routes in east London, Essex and Hertfordshire in 2015. They immediately embarked on a range of improvements which have yielded big results:
Many new trains are already on order – placed weeks after the takeover as part of £260 million plan to boost capacity across London Overground. There’s been 27% passenger growth in just one year. Incredible numbers showing the TfL effect. Stations are now staffed from first to last.
Figures last week show big gains in passengers at many TfL managed stations. Methodological changes explain some but not all of it. Better advertising helps for a start.
Having that TfL roundel outside stations achieves much. Even the roundel is a symbol of an operator that has half a clue. TfL often put up clearly visible signage which is often brightly lit and very visible at night helping to alert people to the station’s existence. So many Southeastern stations are hidden away with little obvious or visible signage. Simple things but ones which franchise operators often don’t bother with as it’s not in their contract and the DfT don’t stipulate it, so little happens.
Is it too late the change this disastrous decision by Grayling? He is stubborn and the media is fixated on Southern’s problems at the expense of Southeastern. Indeed, many journalists don’t seem to realise there’s a difference. And the same can be said for some politicians. With that level of ignorance little will happen.
And any attempt to change things needs very prompt action. What’s the betting SE London is lumbered with another decade of atrocious service with a franchise awarded that offers little that TfL would’ve provided, and then a new Transport Minister comes in who isn’t so ideologically opposed and petty? It’ll be too late for the area.
Southern and South West Trains may then get TfL running their trains and SE London is alone in London without. The worst services and highest fares in the city would then be assured.
Come the next election, many commuters won’t forget what Chris Grayling has done and how some lapdog MPs in south east London and Kent backed him. Things can change fast in politics. The opposition will not always be so poor.
When people are on tatty old trains from Bexleyheath and cannot board in four years time whilst paying more than the majority of London for that “service”, MPs and GLA members will be in for a tough time. And rightfully so. Silly political games and sucking up to colleagues will cost the whole area dear.
Grayling has come out with more nonsense. He says London Overground works well as it’s self-contained and not connected with other networks. Is he thick or does he hope others are? After the Greater Anglia commuter takeover in 2015 they share tracks with the remainder franchise of Greater Anglia. In the south they share tracks with Southern. In the north with much freight. It’s drivel.
And he says London Overground is operated by Arriva as if that’s the same as Southeastern Metro. True, it is, but with a different system that incentives the operator differently (which the DfT won’t adopt) and TfL still have power over fares, timetables, train lengths etc. All of those which TfL will do better that the Department for Transport, who have long shown they know little and care less for south east London rail.