We won’t let TfL run Southeastern Metro trains, says government

Southeastern train at Charing Cross with London Eye in the background
Southeastern Metro services were cut back in December

The government has resisted a call from City Hall politicians to hand over Southeastern Metro and other rail services to be transferred to Transport for London.

Westminster currently controls most of the capital’s local services, but many services have faced cutbacks following the pandemic, or will suffer service reductions in the next timetable.

Southeastern Metro is among the services that have been hit by the Department for Transport cuts, with £5 million of services – including a direct link to the Elizabeth Line – scrapped last December.

No such cuts have been implemented on London Overground routes, which are run by TfL rather than Westminster.

The London Assembly passed a motion for the change at a meeting last month, saying the move would “provide a truly integrated, reliable and affordable rail network for Londoners”.

But the Department for Transport said that the idea was not under consideration.

The motion was put forward by Labour assembly member Elly Baker, who said: “The fragmented and broken structure of our railways is well overdue for change and I think this is something we can all agree on, even if our solutions sometimes may be different.”

She added that rail passengers were facing “cuts to services, less staff and no improvements to reliability, ticketing, or accessibility”.

After the meeting, Baker also referred to the “dangerous scenes recently witnessed at London Bridge station, with extreme overcrowding”.

London Overground train
London Overground services, run by TfL, have not been cut back

The recent overcrowding has been variously blamed on timetable cuts, points failures and signalling issues, as well as a trespasser on the line in January.

A petition by this website calling for the suburban routes operated by Southeastern, which run trains out of London Bridge, to be transferred to TfL’s control, has received over 5,500 signatures.

But while Baker’s motion received support from the assembly’s Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat groups, the Conservatives voted against.

Tory assembly member Nick Rogers said: “Whilst there may be benefits to rail devolution, the mayor’s stewardship of TfL has been so poor that no responsible government would consider devolving control of suburban rail whilst he is mayor.”

Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon pointed out that former Tory mayor Boris Johnson had been in favour of the policy and said it should not matter who the mayor was in order to back the idea. Johnson had even proposed the idea himself as mayor.

Labour’s Joanne McCartney said that one service run by Great Northern, which goes through her Enfield & Haringey constituency, had been reduced during the pandemic from three trains per hour to two. She said this was “not acceptable” and meant trains were prone to overcrowding.

A spokeswoman for London mayor Sadiq Khan, who has long supported taking over local rail services: “The mayor has been clear that TfL has a proven track record of making rail services better, more reliable and more affordable.

“Fares in London are 12 per cent cheaper than they would have been without the action taken by the mayor to freeze fares for five years.

“The business case presented to the government demonstrated that devolving responsibility for London rail services to TfL would lead to economic benefits for Londoners and better services for commuters, and both the mayor and TfL will continue to call on the government to devolve franchised services to TfL.”

Westcombe Park station
Passengers now face longer rush-hour waits for Westminster-run trains

But a Department for Transport spokeswoman said the government would not be following the assembly and mayor’s request.

She instead said: “The department is committed to its strategic partnership with local authorities across the country, including TfL, to ensure suburban rail services are working at their best for passengers, supporting housing, economic growth and the environment.

“Our passenger-focused reforms will bring in improved services with a focus on getting trains running reliably and on time.”

Despite the stance of their colleagues at City Hall and Westminster, Conservatives on Greenwich Council have consistently supported calls for Southeastern Metro to be run by TfL.

Last month Southeastern said that restoring services linking New Eltham and Sidcup with the Elizabeth Line would cost taxpayers £5 million.

May’s timetable change will see a limited service to Charing Cross restored on the Bexleyheath line, but no major alterations to Southeastern Metro. Elsewhere in the capital, Chiltern Railways is cutting lunchtime services through Harrow while Greater Anglia is rerouting rush-hour trains away from Edmonton Green.

Sign our petition: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/633153

Additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain

LDRS logoNoah Vickers is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority, based at the Evening Standard. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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