Boris Johnson visited the new Dalston Junction London Overground station today to launch a “preview” service of the Overground’s East London line to passengers ahead of a full service starting on May 23rd.
The line replaces the old East London Line and when fully operational will see 20 new trains operating between Dalston Junction and West Croydon. Transport for London estimate more than 100,000 passengers using the service every day.
The Mayor was joined at this morning’s event by Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy and Ian Brown, Managing Director of TfL’s rail services.
There were no London Assembly members present although a number had been invited following recent criticism that the launch could provide the Mayor and London’s Conservatives with favourable coverage during the election period.
Opponents dispute the need for the Mayor to promote the “preview” service and have accused him of taking credit for a project initiated by predecessor Ken Livingstone.
Speaking to journalists at this morning’s launch City Hall officials said they had “no intention” of denying Livingstone credit for the Overground service but pointed out that since taking office Johnson had taken a number of key decisions about the project.
In a reference to the criticism, the Mayor said he was launching the service “in a non-political” fashion and praised TfL staff for delivering the project “ahead of schedule and on budget”.
Mayor Johnson said the new line would “bring jobs and opportunities to communities up and down the line, massively improving access for hundreds of thousands of people” but acknowledged there was “a job” to do in ensuring any regeneration didn’t see local residents priced out of their community.
AUDIO – BORIS JOHNSON DISCUSSES THE POLITICAL ROW SURROUNDING TODAY’S OPENING
Mr Hendy said the new service was “an important part of the 2012 transport network” which had been “eagerly awaited by people who live in, work in and visit the areas it serves.”
Managing Director of TfL London Rail, Ian Brown, said the project was “the sort of rail infrastructure that will take London into the future – air-conditioned trains, turn up and go services and staff on every station.”
“In spring next year, we will connect this line with London Overground’s existing network in the north and in 2012, the route will be linked in the south at Clapham Junction thus completing the London Overground orbital railway around London.”
Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and chair of the Assembly transport committee, claimed the Mayor was “desperate to claim credit for something he didn’t initiate” and said the line “must not be used as a political football.”
“The fact that two ‘official openings’ have already been postponed on technical grounds clearly demonstrates that political convenience has been the key factor driving the date of the official opening.”
“Transport for London would do everyone a favour if they stayed well clear of political stunts relating to the opening of the East London Line.”
Labour’s London Minister Tessa Jowell said: “The re-opened, improved and extended East London Line, built with Labour investment, is a big advance for people in East and South London and when it is linked up with the east-west Crossrail we will see a further quantum leap forward for public transport in our city. Without the decision in 2003 to go ahead and deliver this line in time for the Olympics, with £1bn investment from the Government, we would not have won our bid to host the Games.”
TfL insiders have previously denied they were working to a political timetable, insisting technical and service requirements, along with the desire to achieve best value for Londoners, have set the agenda.