Now bring in TfL to run our trains, MPs demand after government sacks Southeastern

Charlton station
The sun is going down on Southeastern after 15 years

Greenwich borough’s MPs have called for TfL to take over southeast London’s train network after the Westminster government suddenly stripped Southeastern of its franchise.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced this morning that the government would be taking over the rail company after allegations of fraud. He said Southeastern had owed the government more than £25m in in historical payments.

A new government-owned company – SE Trains Ltd – will take over from 17 October. Tickets and services will be unaffected by the handover of the business.

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook said that the nationalisation of Southeastern provided a “golden opportunity” to transfer rail lines in SE London to TfL – as has been mooted by London mayor Sadiq Khan and his predecessor, Boris Johnson, when he was in office.

“Rail devolution in south east London is long overdue,” he tweeted.

His counterpart in Eltham, Clive Efford, said he would be seeking a meeting with the government.

“Last time we met, we raised TfL running our local Metro services as they do with the Overground lines. Now is the time to discuss it again.”

London Overground was launched by the first mayor, Ken Livingstone, in 2007, taking over National Rail services in parts of north and west London. It has since expanded to include the old East London Tube line – extended south to West Croydon and Crystal Palace over mainline routes – and services out of Liverpool Street.

Overground users benefit from cheaper fares, cleaner trains and better-staffed stations – all specified in a tight contract with TfL. While Southeastern regularly talked up its fast trains to Kent, its metro trains are in a poor condition with stations regularly left unstaffed – with passengers charged higher fares than the Tube.

TfL has long called for more lines to come under its control, and in 2016 Johnson and the then transport secretary, Patrick McLaughlin, published a paper proposing that it take over services across the capital. The prospectus raised the possibility of more frequent services, new platforms at Brockley and a revamped junction and station at Lewisham.

But after Theresa May became prime minister, her hardline transport secretary, Chris Grayling, put his foot down – refusing to hand the services over to Khan, the new Labour mayor. It later emerged that Grayling had written to Johnson in 2013 saying he wanted to keep services “out of the hands of a future Labour mayor”.

The issue has largely ground to a halt since then, but Shapps will now face demands to deliver on something his prime minister demanded as mayor.

Last week Khan was joined by Shapps at the opening of the Northern Line extension to Battersea, even though the government had little to do with the project. TfL’s finances remain largely under Westminster control after the pandemic brought about a steep drop in passenger numbers.

Today’s announcement marks the second time in two decades that the SE London and Kent rail franchise has been renationalised: in 2003 Connex was stripped of its franchise by the Labour government after claims of financial irregularities.

Southeastern replaced the government-backed operator, South Eastern Trains, in 2006, making it a business that was privatised by a Labour government only to be nationalised by the Tories 15 years later.

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