Rail devolution in the South East: time for everyone to speak up!

20160131-dft-tfl-partnershipStories have been circulating for a few days that the devolution of Metro South Eastern rail services to Transport for London, and the associated benefits for longer-distance commuters, may be torpedoed by the Department for Transport in coming weeks.

Official replies to us, and to Sevenoaks District Council, say the Department for Transport are still evaluating the devolution proposal from TfL. But they’ve had three years to do this and TfL are promising a Benefit to Cost ratio of 4.3 : 1. So it should not take long!

Most of north London’s rail services – out to places like Watford – are already with TfL and deliver much better services, more reliable, staffed stations, reduced fare evasion, integrated and cheaper fares. Stopping services from Sevenoaks, like the rest of south London are the poor relation. If nothing changes we’ll stay that way.

Today’s announcement by the Secretary of State is silent on devolution. Instead it’s about some reorganisation within the rail industry, So it doesn’t address better services for customers, more focus on supporting economic growth in the region, stronger management of train operators, and greater local accountability that his own Department promised in January. Sources close to the ministers concerned say in response to the devolution proposal that ’they don’t want to reorganise the rail system in London’ – which is ominous. Yet today’s statement by the Secretary of State seems to be about a bigger reorganisation of the rail system everywhere! Better co-ordination between Southeastern and Network Rail would certainly be welcome; and the idea has been tried before on South West Trains. Indeed, as part of the change, we hope that the Department for Transport will remove the financial structure where Southeastern actually profit out of poor Network Rail performance – which hardly gives the train operator an incentive to help improve things.

But even if the Secretary of State wants to go ahead with his plan, there are at least four very good reasons to go ahead with devolution of South Eastern Metro commissioning to TfL now as well:

  • TfL is the only rail operator which has experience of running track and signalling, so is much less likely to make a mess of things if the new system goes ahead. Indeed it could do a much better job of actively managing Network Rail as well as the train operator.
  • The South East London Metro rail system is one of the most complex areas of the UK rail system, and would benefit from the experienced oversight that TfL would give. Conversely given the high operational, financial and political risks it is hardly the best place to try out what the Secretary of State is now proposing.
  • The DfT/TfL Prospectus for partnership and devolution published in January was not just about Metro services. For long distance commuters it also promised substantial benefits, including: improved fast longer distance services to support commuting and regional growth; an improved travel environment, better accessibility and staff available to help; and the reinvestment of passenger fares in higher service standards.
  • We know the TfL approach to commissioning train operators works to deliver better services, while the DfT approach doesn’t; if there are to be any gains for Sevenoaks in the next franchise starting in 2018 it has to be decided now, not after another ‘experiment’.

Achieving these benefits does not depend on Network Rail: it’s a matter of how the train service is specified, of how the operator is selected and managed and of better local accountability for services. Sadly the Secretary of State’s announcement today does not make any progress towards the goals his own predecessor set out earlier in the year.

It’s time for members and others to make their voice heard again. Otherwise the opportunity will be lost for a further cycle and we’ll be stuck with another franchise on the current, failing, model. So we would encourage our members and supporters to make it clear to their MPs, wherever they come from, that they want the sorts of improvements originally promised by the joint DfT/TfL prospectus – and which 74% of consultation responses supported.   For Sevenoaks that’s Sir Michael Fallon and you can write him an email here. Other MPs can be contacted using  https://www.writetothem.com/

Please also give us your views here.

We want the devolution plans agreed by London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex – and the previous Secretary of State – to go ahead now.



Rail devolution in the South East: time for everyone to speak up! — 11 Comments

  1. First it was scuppered by Kent County Council, having a silly sulk about Boris’s plans for Boris Island.

    Then it was scuppered by Chris Grayling, having a silly sulk about Sadiq’s win over Zac.

    Won’t someone PLEASE think of the commuters !

  2. @gerry

    Grayling’s statement looks like an insult to KCC. Having been offered and signed up to a partnership in January, KCC are not even offered a seat at the refranchising table in the way TfL are offered one as a consolation prize. And there’s no re-promise of the benefits to Kent that were in the original Prospectus that KCC backed.

  3. I’m just lost for words at the diabolical situation. Commuters don’t matter, profits do.

  4. It goes against all the evidence and the desire of not just TFL but Sevenoaks commuters, the local authorities and our own MP. The benefits to our local community and economy of handing the Metro to TFL were clear but the Secretary of state has chosen to abandon sense and cook up a recipe for higher fares and now signals & track maintained by a company that can’t even keep a brand new ticket machine (that took them over 6 months to install) operational for more than two days at a time.

    I think Mr Fallon has some serious questions to answer as to how much he cares for his constituency. I have no confidence in him at all.

  5. Listen to the passengers! Commuters in the Sevenoaks area have had to put up with some of the poorest service and highest fares per mile of track anywhere in the country. And we’ve all had to get used to feeling constantly ignored by Southeastern and the decision-makers. The dissatisfaction with Southeastern is strong, and the benefits of moving to an integrated model with TfL are clear. This decision is another big smack in the face for all of us.

  6. The situation is most unsatisfactory for us long suffering Southeastern commuters. If it is the case that Chris Grayling has acted in a partisan manner then this decision should be subjected to a judicial review.

  7. Politics coming before passengers. A disgrace. TfL provide a better service. Who cares if it’s led by a Labour Mayor?

    Bromley Tory MP Bob Neill has had the guts to call on Grayling to resign. Silence from Michael Fallon.

  8. In many respects this is entirely unsurprising behavior from Grayling. When he was Lord Chancellor he pushed through a long list of unstatesmanlike party-politically-motivated policies such banning families sending books to prisoners or forcing courts to impose flat rate “charges” on criminal defendants without regard to their means or crimes. Most of his “reforms” were either found to be unlawful or were abandoned or reversed by his successor, Michael Gove.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if his decision to follow through his 2013 letter is in part motivated by the fact that Sadiq Khan was his shadow before the election and observed:

    “Most judges, lawyers, probation staff, prison officers, victims, court staff and people denied access to justice believe that you have been the worst Lord Chancellor since Lord Shaftesbury in 1673”

    I should also note that I don’t say this as some anti-Tory activist: I think Ken Clarke and Michael Gove were no worse than Jack Staw and Lord Falconer and whilst Liz Truss may be ineffective, she doesn’t seem nearly as dangerous…

    Let’s cross our fingers that he will soon move on and someone else can come in to correct the damage. Again.

  9. Like Jack, I wish someone could come in to correct the damage. But if the Department for Transport comes out in January with a franchising plan for South Eastern which doesn’t deliver what TfL were committing to do the pain for Sevenoaks commuters will be irreversible.

    We will be stuck until at least 2025 – possibly longer – with a system for managing rail services which achieves
    – the lowest passenger satisfaction scores in Britain
    – the highest fares, and worse fare evasion than London
    – no integrated ticketing
    – stations remaining unstaffed, and
    – little or no prospect of adapting capacity to the increasing number of people trying to get to work.

    The Greater London Authority seem to be trying to fight this disastrous decision, and so does the MP for Bromley and Chislehurst. Will anyone in Kent have the guts to do the same?

  10. It was interesting that in his latest Chronicle monthly column on Thursday Michael Fallon MP mentioned the Southeastern franchise review and the dire services over recent weeks, yet failed to mention his fellow minister’s negative move on TFL. I think we need answers now to what the local MP thinks, bearing in mind the highly critical reaction from his Bromley and Chislehurst colleague and many others.

  11. It is sad to say but I don’t know why we should be surprised. SE have been able to get away with whatever they want for some time – Sevenoaks have suffered more than most as costs continue to spiral.Trains are very rarely on time and the excuses manage to be more and more imaginative. I heard somebody complain to station staff recently and his response was “get a bus then”! The situation wont get better as long as we have people in influence sitting in their ivory towers, who are more interested in looking after the transport companies than the rights of the customer!!

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