Fresh calls for London’s suburban rail services to come under TfL’s control
Fresh calls for the capital’s suburban rail services to be put under the control of Transport for London (TfL) have been resisted by the Government.
The London Assembly passed a motion for the change at a recent meeting, saying the move would “provide a truly integrated, reliable and affordable rail network for Londoners”.
But the Department for Transport (DfT) said that despite the wishes of a majority of Assembly Members (AMs) at City Hall, the idea was not under consideration.
The motion was put forward by Labour AM Elly Baker, who told the Assembly’s March 16 meeting: “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”.
In comments after the meeting, Ms Baker also referred to the “dangerous scenes recently witnessed at London Bridge station, with extreme overcrowding”.
Concerns have been sparked at the central London station in recent weeks, as hundreds of passengers have - twice in just over a month - been stranded on the station’s concourse during the evening rush hour.
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 calling for the suburban routes operated by Southeastern, which run trains out of London Bridge, to be transferred to TfL’s control, has received some 5,500 signatures.
Ms Baker’s motion received support from the Assembly’s Labour, Green and Lib Dem groups, with only the Conservative group voting against.
Tory AM 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 AM Caroline Pidgeon pointed out that former Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson had been in favour of the policy and said it should not matter who the Mayor is in order to back the idea.
Labour AM Joanne McCartney said that one service run by Great Northern, which goes through her Enfield and 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 Mayor Sadiq Khan said Mr Khan was already in favour of suburban rail being devolved: “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.”
But approached for comment, a DfT 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.”