Conservatives on Greenwich Council have joined calls for southeast London’s rail services to be taken over by TfL after Southeastern was sacked as the area’s train operator yesterday.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, announced yesterday morning that a government-owned company would be taking over trains in SE London, Kent and East Sussex from 17 October after breaching its franchise.
Southeastern did not declare £25 million of taxpayer funding, which should have been returned to the government. The company has reported itself to the Serious Fraud Office, The Daily Telegraph reported.
The London Assembly’s cross-party transport committee also called for Southeastern to be split and its metro routes in the capital to be given to TfL, which already runs some National Rail services under the London Overground and TfL Rail names.
In a letter to Shapps, seen by 853, Greenwich Council’s opposition leader Nigel Fletcher and the Tories’ transport spokesperson Matt Clare said that “passengers have been badly let down for years”.
They added: “The revelation of this serious breach involving the concealing of taxpayer funds is the final insult. You are right to describe it as a serious breach of faith, and we welcome your decision to strip them of their franchise.
“We urge you now to take the opportunity to transfer the franchise to Transport for London.
“This is not an issue of party politics, but of ensuring a better rail service for commuters, and it is the considered view of all those who advocate this move that it would be a positive step to improve the service.
“Local people in Greenwich would be keen to hear details of what the next steps will be with the franchise, and we would be keen to make further representations on behalf of our residents to help shape the future of this important commuter route.”
For the London Assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrat chair of its transport committee, said: “It’s worth drawing the government’s attention to the success of TfL Rail and the London Overground, which has led to more efficient rail services throughout the capital.
“The simplest plan would be for the Government to hand-over control of all suburban rail lines to Transport for London, which will integrate rail lines across Greater London into a single, centralised network.”
Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and Eltham MP Clive Efford yesterday also called for TfL to be given SE London’s trains, with Pennycook saying such a move would be “long overdue”.
Elsewhere in SE London, Bromley & Chislehurst’s MP Sir Bob Neill, who has previously said TfL should be given the lines, called for “a more aligned, customer-oriented rail network that works for local passengers”.
Southeastern has long been criticised for leaving its metro trains in a poor condition with stations regularly left unstaffed, while passengers are charged higher fares than the Tube.
By contrast, TfL’s Overground services have been given new trains with higher levels of cleaning while stations are staffed from first train to last, with fares mostly at the same level as the Tube.
Southeastern’s metro trains, with most of its rolling stock dating back to the early 1990s, were seen as the poor relation to its more high-profile high-speed trains and Kent coast services. The Financial Times reported that the financial discrepancies related to the high-speed services.
When Boris Johnson was mayor, TfL published a plan to take over many more of London’s rail routes – including those through SE London.
Ideas proposed included revamping Lewisham station and the tracks around it to increase service levels, and building new platforms at Brockley station.
However, the Conservative government cooled on the idea when Labour’s Sadiq Khan became mayor.
Southeastern had held the franchise since 2006, when it was privatised by the Labour government. A state-run company, South Eastern Trains, had held the franchise for three years after the previous operator, Connex, was sacked over financial irregularities.
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