Tory AM calls for more power over Southeastern

If you’ve been following the Southeastern fiasco over the past couple of months, then you might be interested in this blog entry from James Cleverly, who’s the Conservative assembly member for Bexley and Bromley.

A cursory look at the internet will show you a host of people who feel hugely disappointed and let down by the company, a situation not helped by the company only scraping in above their compensation target by running a skeleton service over those snowy days.

Now, if you can get past this piece of bickering…

Lib Dems tried to make some political capital from the widespread disappointment felt by may commuters by attacking the Mayor about the TOCs performance, they know full well that the Mayor cannot control the actions of the TOCs any more than they can.

…which ignores the fact that as well as a lawmaker, the mayor is a representative of all of London, not just zone 1, and should be speaking out on our behalf. After all, he doesn’t control aviation policy, or Kent, but he’s still banging on about airports in the estuary.

Anyway, once you’ve got past that, you get to these thoughts:

I think that there are two things which should be changed to give London politicians more power to hold the TOCs to account. The first is to give the Transport Committee of the London Assembly the power to call the TOCs in for questioning, at the moment we can invite them but cannot compel them to attend. Being able to make them attend will enable us to put them under the same level of scrutiny that TFL currently enjoy.

The second change would be for the Mayor and Assembly to have a significant say in the awarding of the franchises for the suburban commuter routes which mainly serve Londoners. While having an informal relationship with the TOCs can bring about improvements, the Oysterisation of the surface train stations for example, it is not the same as having some real leverage in the relationship.

All sensible suggestions, and I hope James’s allies in government are listening. Without much power over Southeastern, the franchise can – in a phrase beloved of the current mayoralty – hold Londoners to ransom. Which, effectively, they are by charging London’s highest rates for season tickets.

James’s thoughts are welcome, particularly as London commuters need to be represented – much of the sound and fury over Southeastern has come from deepest Kent, whose needs and interests are different.

But we could go further. The mayor James defends could do so much more. His thoughts were posted the day after TfL released a statement crowing over the success of London Overground – largely created by splitting off the London bit of the Silverlink franchise and throwing money into new trains and station refurbishments, and joining it up with the old East London tube line.

London Overground was a Ken-era creation but Boris’s team is happy to take the credit.

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London’s Transport Advisor, said: ‘These scores illustrate that Londoners have seen real improvements to our Overground services since TfL took responsibility for them.

‘The Mayor knows how important they are to Outer London and that is why he has provided a real focus in that area.”

We could split hairs on how much of London Overground is actually in “outer London” – but if the mayor really knew how important rail services were to outer London, why isn’t he speaking up for those who aren’t lucky enough to live on his own network? For my money, I’d like to see London Overground standards apply to Southeastern’s metro services, which would boost evening and weekend services and make sure stations are staffed while they’re open.

But how do we go about making this happen? Perhaps the mayor should be taking a lead and standing up for SE London, rather than chickening out of it – he might get some unexpected support if he did, and it might even lead him to get a bit more power for TfL. The same applies to the man who wants to replace him – it’s time for a real discussion about what we, in SE London, want to do about our crap train service.

With Southeastern struggling to cope with a broken business model, which depended on high-speed trains to Kent being a roaring success, perhaps now is the chance to really make a push for change.

4.45PM UPDATE: Channel 4 wants your help with an edition of Dispatches on Britain’s railways…

Simply upload your own film to YouTube as a response to the one above, and it may be used.


  1. Another typical night on Southeastern! Get on train to Greenwich from Cannon Street and suddenly I’m sailing through New Cross. No announcement, no apology. Turfed out at Lewisham, nobody there knew anything. Got a complaints form at Greenwich, was promptly told it wasn’t their fault, was Network Rail. To add icing on the frustration, a train sailed into Greenwich from London as we arrived on the DLR.

    Just another regular day held at ransom by Southeastern.

  2. I am a little wary of giving the the Mayor and Assembly a significant say in the awarding of the franchises for the suburban commuter routes. Southeastern services provide both inner and outer suburban rail services. There would be the temptation for the Mayor and Assembly to give precedence to the inner suburban services to the detriment of outer suburban services. For example they might wish to increase the frequency of services serving zone 6 which could mean services from Tonbridge and the Medway towns being reduced in frequency.

    If the Mayor and Assembly were to be given more of a say in the franchise then the same should apply to Councils outside of London. Personally I would like to see significantly more representation from passenger groups such as the Tonbridge Line Commuters. In my experience passenger groups have a better understanding of the railways than elected politicians!

  3. NM – Ouch. I heard people were stuck on a train at Maze Hill this morning and unable to get off because it wasn’t due to stop there…

    Kevin. If we take what’s happened north of London, I don’t think passengers who are served by London Midland are suffering a worse service because of the creation of London Overground. Indeed, people in part of Hertfordshire are getting a better rail service which is being heavily subsidised by London taxpayers.

    Splitting Southeastern would help Kent scrutinise those mainline services better. And it should be able to send a representative or two along to join the mayor/assembly/TfL on things like metro services to Gravesend.

  4. North of London and the London Overground are significantly different to the Metro and mainline services south of the river. For starters the London Overground is relatively self contained. Metro and mainline share much of the same infrastructure for example Borough Junction! Why would the Mayor be interested in commuters from Tonbridge or the Medway towns. There are no votes in it for him.

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