London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone says he wants to see south east London’s rail network run by Transport for London – and says he’d agreed a deal to do just that before he was voted out of office in 2008.
Speaking to local residents and activists in Deptford last night, he said all London’s mainline rail services should be run along the lines of London Overground, the network he created in 2007 to take over run-down services in north London.
At present, Southeastern, along with other privately-run services, is free to set fares, acquire trains and decides on the level of service it wants to provide.
But under the model used for London Overground, TfL decides which services, trains and fares to offer – and keeps 90% of the revenue, leaving operator LOROL with the rest. Trains, stations and track have been upgraded, and the service linked with the old East London Tube line – and punctuality has shot up, along with passenger numbers.
Mr Livingstone told the audience:
If people can remember how bad the North London Line was – it was absolutely the worst railway line. We took it over, merged it with the East London Line, and it’s now Britain’s best railway. That cost one and a quarter billion pounds. It’s a lot of money, but it’s peanuts in terms of most major public investment projects.
If we ran all overland trains in London on that basis – if we can run a service that’s as reliable on our overground, why can’t South East Trains? [sic] They don’t give a damn. They’ve got a monopoly, they run a minimum service at the maximum fare.
One of the tragedies about my losing last time was that the Labour government had agreed to start transferring control of London’s overland train franchising to the mayor. They passed a law that allowed two people from outside London to on the TfL board to oversee it, and I was in negotiations with [transport secretary] Ruth Kelly to just take them over and run them like we do the Overground. And [Boris] Johnson just dropped all of that.
That’s something I want to come back to. It’s a power I want from the government, to become the franchising authority and set the same standard for south east trains as you’d expect from the London Overground. There’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be done.
With both the main challengers for next May’s election backing TfL taking over the rest of the capital’s mainline trains, and with TfL having commissioned a report into how this might work, it looks as if time could well be running out for the likes of Southeastern, whose franchise expires in March 2014.
It’s fair to say Southeastern won’t be missed, after recent fiascos with snow, the current saga of trains being mysteriously short of coaches and a continuing inability to communicate with passengers. Furthermore, recently-submitted planning documents show the company still plans to cut train services at many Greenwich line stations during next summer’s Olympics.
While some aspects of Southeastern’s service could be fixed relatively easily – such as staffing and customer service – it’s not clear where the sums needed to transform the train service would come from. On the down side, it could see the withdrawal of rail-only tickets in favour of travelcards and the more expensive, but more flexible fares that Tube and DLR users pay. But would this be a small price to pay for a much-improved service?
One thing is for sure – the political will is there, from both Ken and Boris. If you’re a hacked-off Southeastern commuter, it’s worth making sure both men – and their parties, the ones that created this mess in the first place – are well aware you want to see change.
With the coalition government considering longer train franchises for the rest of the country, we in south-east London might not get this chance again for many years.
8pm update: If you use Lewisham station, and find the locked exit on platform 4 (the one towards Blackheath) as annoying as I do, this petition may be right up your street…