We are now less than a month until the latest short-term extension awarded to Southeastern operator Govia expires on 31st March.
The franchise has been in limbo since 2014 with a number of short-term extensions, as ideas such as devolution to TfL and new franchise awards came and were then subsequently cancelled.
There’s now two options on the table from April 2020: another short term extension or the Government taking control via the “operator of last resort” which has just taken over Northern Rail.
Using OLR looks quite unlikely given other franchises are in a very poor financial state and the Department for Transport are stretched. They may have to organise direct running of South West Rail and c2c given recent financial problems. Add in Brexit preparations and now corona virus planning and the department are spread thinly. Therefore the easiest option is possibly another direct award.
But whatever happens nothing can ultimately improve without the DfT’s approval. One major issue is space to store any additional trains. There is none. That needs funding before any new trains can arrive.
A lack of long-term planning for many years has hampered this crucial step towards improved services. So whatever happens soon in announcing who runs the service, if there’s no announcement of new sidings little will change.
There’s no capacity whatsoever to run more peak time trains into London terminal so extending train length is the only answer.
Sidings must be built or extended to store any extra stock. Last year passenger growth in the London area was substantial with some stations seeing 70 per cent growth over a year. Completing the London Bridge rebuild is one major factor, but many stations are far above levels seen in 2015 when work begin.
New home building is also widespread. Those who see Crossrail as a saviour are perhaps a little misplaced. It will certainly help the Woolwich line hugely. But the Bexleyheath and Sidcup lines? Not really, as any time improvement is negated by needing to take a bus to Abbey Wood or Woolwich.
So when the announcement is made (and they really need to get a move on), the thing to really keep an eye on is an announcement of new sidings and trains.
As ever with the existing privatised franchise network, it’s the Government who really hold the power and dictate change.
IN the mid to long term a real solution will be needed for who runs the service as any decision is a stop gap. Will TfL emerge again? The DfT sound warmer on the idea than under Grayling, but TfL are in dire financial straights. It’d need some changes from central Government in their funding to permit. Or a new “franchise” – though under what model? Many franchises are failing, and a review into them under the Williams review is likely to call for the model to be scrapped.
However the review has been sitting on Minister’s desks for months and still unpublished.