Education secretary Justine Greening has been criticised after promising to lobby for better rail London services despite the Government dropping plans to devolve services to City Hall, a move which was expected to deliver significant improvements for passengers.
Ms Greening, who is hoping to retain her Putney seat at next month’s General Election, has promised to lobby for “extra South West trains capacity” if she’s re-elected.
Her pledge comes just months after cabinet colleague Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, axed plans agreed between his department and former Mayor, now Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson to hand control of all suburban rail services over to City Hall and Transport for London.
A devolution strategy, launched last January by Mr Johnson and then transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, would have seen TfL take control of South West, Southern and Southeastern services as each franchise came up for renewal.
London’s transport agency had planned to bring the newly devolved services into line with the London Overground which has seen hundreds of millions of pounds invested in new rolling stock, permanent staffing and station upgrades.
As a result of the investment, which has spanned all three London Mayors, passengers have benefited from more frequent and more reliable services, as well as better personal security, and TfL been rewarded with some of the highest passenger satisfaction scores of any UK rail operator.
However, despite this proven success in transforming poor performing services, Mr Grayling abandoned the plans in December, claiming there was a danger of “deckchair shifting” with no real improvement for passengers.
Despite the government’s decision to abandon rail reform in London, Ms Greening is delivering thousands of leaflets to local voters in which she says her priorities will include “pressing for the investment we need on District line signalling, extra South West trains capacity and an improved Putney station with a second entrance.”
Liberal Democrats have criticised the promise, with London spokesperson Caroline Pidgeon AM saying: “It is a bit rich for a cabinet member to be campaigning on rail issues when it is the Conservatives in Government who have been blocking improvements to Metro rail services across south London. Passengers will not be fooled.”
A Labour source said: “Passengers will rightly be outraged that Justine Greening is demanding improvements to South West Trains just months after the cabinet in which she sits performed a spectacular u-turn and blocked moves to devolve control of suburban trains to TfL.
“That is the only way services will improve – but the cynical Tories don’t give a damn about the needs of passengers.”