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Mayor outlines formal plan to take on London rail franchises

London mayor Boris Johnson has published a document that outlines how he is seeking powers to control the capital’s suburban railways.

Johnson wants the government to devolve power to him to set the standards for the rail services run by the private train companies and claims that by integrating them into the Transport for London (TfL) network, and by adopting TfL’s contracting model he could make “millions of pounds of savings”.

The cost savings – equating to £100M over 20 years – would arise because train companies would not be asked to price risks such as levels of demand largely driven by economic conditions, said the mayor’s office in a statement.

Johnson cited the improvements on London Overground services as evidence backing up his vision. The former Silverlink Metro franchise services were “poor quality with old trains, neglected stations, bad customer service and high levels of fare evasion” said the statement. Since TfL took over the network and established London Overground, those services have been transformed into one of the “best performing” in Great Britain, with a reliability rate of 96%, it continued.

The idea of taking over the 10 train operators currently running trains in the capial was originally mooted by TfL last July.

The Franchise Plan

The government has said that it is willing to look at flexible ways of franchising local rail services, and it is believed that they will begin a consultation on the possibilities around devolving rail franchises at the end of February, said the mayor’s office. In the next four years, six London-area franchises come up for renewal. Transport for London has identified the franchises currently operated by Southeastern and West Anglia as priorities for devolution when those franchises come up for renewal in 2014.

“The fractured organisation of London’s suburban railways is totally inefficient and needs a complete overhaul,” said London mayor Boris Johnson. “My vision is for one integrated suburban service operating to the standards we have demonstrated can be achieved on London Overground, which is now one of the most reliable and popular railways in the UK. There are 85M trips each year on London’s rail network that could benefit from this approach. Devolving the commercial franchises would allow us to invest millions of pounds in improving stations and to simplify the ticketing system.”

Johnson’s strategy also examines the need to continue to provide investment in rail capacity to meet the demands of an ever increasing population in the capital. He has identified the need for an extra 1,700 carriages on the inner suburban railway by 2020, the workhorse of the capital’s economy. This would make a real difference to Londoners’ quality of life. The strategy also predicts that by the 2020s a Crossrail 2 running north to south will be required to address capacity issues in London and provide congestion relief to the Victoria Line in particular. It will be needed with even greater urgency if Parliament approves the construction of a High Speed 2 network serving Euston, to help disperse the additional passengers arriving there.

Readers' comments (1)

  • So pleased that it is a Conservative Mayor and not a Labour one that has reversed the idealogue to return to a more sensible management of an urban railway. Had it been a Labour change the Conservatives (on the right of the party) would always want to revert to a "market lead" form of transportation, but with Boris making these changes we have a greater chance of the changes remaining in place.

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