In recent years the operation of rail services from the Sevenoaks area have been subject to uncertainties – and to the ordinary rail traveller probably some confusion – arising from changes in:
- our area’s Train Operating Company (TOC),
- the provider of the network’s infrastructure, and
- official responsibility for strategic oversight of the railways.
The Train Operator
Since 1 April 2006, train services from Sevenoaks have been operated by GoVia, under the nameSoutheastern, through its 100%-owned subsidiary London & South Eastern Railway Limited (LSER). Prior to the re-privatisation of the Kent franchise, between November 2003 and March 2006 the system was operated by South Eastern Trains (‘SET’), a subsidiary of the now defunct Strategic Railway Authority (SRA). This followed the withdrawal of the franchise from ConnexSouth Eastern which had been the TOC for our area following British Rail’s privatisation in 1996.
GoVia is a joint venture of the bus and train Go-Ahead Group (65%) and Keolis (35%). Shares in Go-Ahead are widely held but Keolis is part-owned by the French national railway SNCF. (GoVia is also the owner of Southern, the TOC providing services into London from the South Coast, mainly through East and West Sussex and Surrey.)
The terms of a TOC’s franchise – in our case GoVia’s ‘Integrated Kent Franchise‘ (IKF), which combines SET’s services with (from 2009) domestic services on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (‘CTRL’) – are specified and monitored by the Rail Group of the Department for Transport (‘DfT’). Previously, this responsibility was that of the SRA. GoVia’s franchise runs to end-March 2012 with a two-year extension if performance targets are met. The DfT is also responsible for regulating fares.
TOC’s typically lease their trains from rolling stock leasing companies (ROSCOs). Currently there are three – owned by Abbey, HSBC, and Royal Bank of Scotland. In June 2006 the DfT made a formal complaint to the ORR alleging that some of the ROSCOs’ activities were distorting competition. This charge is under investigation.
Owner of the infrastructure
The railway infrastructure (stations, track ,signals, etc) is owned by Network Rail, a ‘not for profit’ company limited by guarantee, which took over the running of the network from Railtrack in October 2002. Network Rail operates the main London termini such as Cannon Street and Charing Cross, but leases smaller stations to the TOCs. (So GoVia, as a ‘station facility owner’, leases the stations in our area from the ‘landlord’ Network Rail.)
Network Rail is owned by members (including representatives from the railway industry, the DfT, public organisations (including Transport for London (TfL) and other associations such as passenger groups and trade unions), and appointed individual members of the general public.
Network Rail is regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). Since 1 April 2006 the ORR has also had responsibility for the oversight of railway safety, which was previously part of the remit of the Health and Safety Executive.
London Travel Watch (officially the London Transport Users Committee) is sponsored and financed by the London Assembly (part of the Greater London Authority) and was established to represent the interests of transport users in and around London. The Rail Passengers Council ( ‘Passenger Focus’) is an independent, government-funded body that represents rail users’ interests at the national level.