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Comment | New era for London's railways

London Overground

Proposals for what has been dubbed “a new era of rail travel for London” were launched today transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin and London mayor Boris Johnson.

And it is hard to argue that it is anything other than a very good thing.

The proposals — on which views are being sought — would see the transfer of rail services that operate mostly or wholly within the Greater London boundary to Transport for London (TfL) when the current franchises are due for renewal. This could include inner suburban rail services from London Bridge, Cannon Street, Charing Cross, Moorgate, Victoria and Waterloo.

Government’s support for the move comes on the back of the success of the London Overground, which has seen ridership soar since TfL took over the route.

The development of London Overground has shown what can be achieved by giving greater focus to suburban services, with customers benefiting from staff at stations at all times while services are running, improved safety and a turn up and go service for customers with reduced mobility.

Launched in 2007, London Overground is an orbital rail network for the Capital, formed from existing railways, including some that were previously dilapidated or disused.

Passenger numbers have increased five-fold since 2007 and today the Overground carries more than 520,000 passengers every day. At the same time delays are down and customers have gone from being among the least satisfied in the UK to among the most. Fare evasion is almost eradicated. These improving trends began immediately after launch, and before the effect of a £1bn-plus capital investment in new trains and infrastructure was felt.

London Overground’s success is down to an effective partnership between TfL, Network Rail and train operator London Overground Railway Operations (LOROL), plus significant investment in the route.

LOROL was formed by combining two of the most reliable and customer focused railways in the world – MTR Corporation of Hong Kong (50%) and Deutsche Bahn of Germany (50%). The contract with LOROL includes clear financial incentives to provide a consistently reliable and high-quality service.

For example, a customer satisfaction survey, mystery shopper survey, reliability measures and other performance indicators objectively measure the quality of service. LOROL is penalised for delay minutes attributed to the operator and for missing fare evasion targets.

It’s all added up to a huge success story; one that Johnson and his TfL colleagues have long wished to emulate elsewhere. Now it appears they may get their wish.

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