With news of problems at numerous rail franchises across the UK and Southeastern’s next franchise hitting issues, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and TfL have today again renewed calls for Southeastern metro routes to be devolved from Department for Transport control to Transport for London.
TfL previously came to an agreement in 2016 with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s predecessor Patrick McLaughlin. TfL would have operated routes to Hayes, the three lines to Dartford and possibly beyond to Gravesend or Gillingham.
Aspirations were to place staff at stations from first to last train to increase safety, improve the attractiveness of rail especially at off-peak times and reduce fare evasion (hence helping fund the policy).
Increasing passengers and off-peak leisure travel is a major goal for TfL and they’ve enjoyed success elsewhere in that area with London Overground. The scope to do so in SE London is vast. Many stations on the Woolwich line, for example, are in prime locations near town centres and numerous attractions yet are nowhere near as welcoming as they should be.
Another goal is integration into TfL’s fares and ticketing structures. This would reduce fares for a great many people using pay as you go and remove the surcharge when switching to the tube.
Another TfL goal was better evening and weekend services. Services are still only every half hour on some busy lines on Sundays.
The agreement was overturned when Chris Grayling took over the post. Since then a succession of franchises and concessions across the country have been in severe trouble with the franchise system appearing on life support.
The subsequent DfT franchise specifications did not include many of the explicit goals that TfL planned.
Sadiq Khan didn’t play his hand particularly well with Grayling and antagonised through public statements regarding Southern and Thameslink. He also showed some naivete by calling for Thameslink’s transfer despite its boundaries stretching was beyond London which caused opposition.
However it was unlikely Chris Grayling would have agreed to Southeastern devolution then or now. Years before he stated he wanted to keep rail out of the clutches of any future Labour Mayor no matter what, and his record is as an arch privatiser when Minister of Justice and in charge of Probation Service (where privatisation has been disastrous and huge bailouts needed).
So what happens now? Grayling will in all likelihood not back down despite local support across the political spectrum including the Conservatives on devolving rail.
Given the apparent problems with the new franchise award process we have to hope he doesn’t rush into approving one to make a point that franchises are best. If he does, that’s a decade at least of services that may not hit the mark.