Ministers have ended City Hall and Transport for London’s hopes of gaining greater control over the capital’s rail services.
TfL already controls the London Overground and DLR, and will be responsible for the Crossrail / Elizabeth Line service when it opens in 2019. The agency has long hoped to further extend its control over rail travel by winning control of services such as Southern, Southeastern and South West trains.
In January it looked as if Government had finally been persuaded when former Mayor Boris Johnson and then Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin published a document outlining how they would work together “to improve rail services across the Capital and its surrounding regions.”
Since succeeding Mr Johnson in May, current Mayor Sadiq Khan has made several public calls for ministers to deliver on the document’s ambitions, including urging them to handover control of the Southern franchise to TfL.
However Department for Transport insiders have previously expressed dissatisfaction with Mr Khan’s claimed lack of clarity on how he would deal with unions in their dispute over the future of train conductors and a failure to show how TfL would deliver real-world improvements for passengers while extending his fares freeze to rail services.
In recent months talk of a handover had lessened, prompting the London Assembly to express concern about the lack of progress.
Today new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said he was no longer looking to devolve control of rail services, telling the Evening Standard that there was a danger of “deckchair shifting” with no real improvement for passengers.
Instead of handing over control of any services to TfL, the agency’s input will be limited to helping design the new Southeastern franchise which is up for renewal in 2018.
Responding to today’s news, Mayor Khan said: “The only proven way of improving services for passengers is giving control of suburban rail lines to TfL.
“This is why the government and previous Mayor published a joint prospectus earlier this year. There is cross-party support for this from MPs, assembly members, councils inside and out of London and businesses and their representatives.
“Anything short of this simply won’t make the improvements desperately needed. It is a fact, TfL lines have more frequent trains, fewer delays and cancellations, more staff at stations and fares are frozen.
“We will keep pushing the government to deliver the rail devolution they have promised and that is needed.”
Today’s news has been described as “a pretty unsatisfactory compromise” by former Conservative London Assembly member and MP for Bromley & Chislehurst, Bob Neill who is a long time supporter of rail devolution.
Mr Neill said he did not “have much faith” in the joint DfT/TfL scoping of the new Southeastern franchise delivering the necessary improvements, adding and “neither I suspect will most Bromley & Chislehurst rail users.”
He later added that the “failure to transfer metroservice to TfL [is] a cop-out for rail users in our area”.