Mayoral Election: Could London's Rail Services Become Part of TfL?

By BethPH Last edited 74 months ago
Mayoral Election: Could London's Rail Services Become Part of TfL?

Earlier this month, Boris Johnson set out his plans to bring London's rail services under the control of City Hall and TfL in a bid to improve London's transport.

Mainline rail routes into London are currently franchised to private companies with varying degrees of customer service, timeliness and efficiency and the mayor believes he can do a better job. A recent Telegraph poll suggests that over 75% of other people think he can do a better job too. So does Ken Livingstone, though obviously he's planning in terms of himself being mayor rather than Boris. Let's take a look at their plans for devolution of rail franchises in London:

Under Boris Johnson

  • A turn up and go frequency of at least four trains an hour throughout the week
  • Improved security with networked CCTV and help points at all stations, plus improved lighting and more stations gated to reduce anti-social behaviour.
  • Improved stations by deep cleaning and refurbishing.
  • Visible staff presence across the network throughout the day, offering proactive assistance to customers.
  • Visual and public address systems providing real time service information supported by the best and most comprehensive online and mobile enabled journey planning system anywhere in the world.
  • High quality cycle parking facilities to promote cycling as a means of access to stations.

Under Ken Livingstone

  • All stations will receive a frequency of service of at least four trains per hour throughout the week.
  • All stations deep cleaned and meeting a standard of cleanliness that is equivalent to that currently maintained by the Overground.
  • Improving passenger safety by ensuring that stations are staffed at all times that services are running and that staff are visible and available to customers, offering them assistance on a proactive basis whenever possible.
  • All stations will be equipped with Help Points on every platform to enable customers to request information or assistance if they need it.
  • All stations will be equipped with state of the art visual and aural customer information systems on platforms and in entrance areas/ticket halls that provide customers with real time information on the train service provided.
  • All stations will have cycle parking facilities that match TfL’s quantitative and qualitative standard in this area, so that it is easier for commuters to travel the last mile home by bike.
  • Making it easier for passengers with mobility problems to use the train with more step-free access at stations.
  • Fares that are consistent with Tube fares, ensuring that no suburban rail passengers are worse off and many benefit from Ken’s Fare Deal policy of a 7% fares cut, saving the average Londoner £1000 over the next four years.

To be honest, there's nothing that surprising in either of those proposals. It's not rocket science to deduce that rail users would quite like clean, safe trains and stations, frequent trains and up-to-date information without having to rely on Twitter. The cycle parking is a biggie too; the profile of cycling and its subsequent politicisation has increased dramatically in the last year or so and a rusty railing to chain one's bike to outside a station is no longer acceptable. 853 blog recently (and reluctantly) let the cat out of the bag about the vastly improved cycle parking at North Greenwich.

Southeastern and West Anglia have been identified as prime candidates for devolution. The former has been plagued by complaints about poor services, ranging from missing stations to an apparent inability to run trains in either hot or cold weather.

Can TfL afford to run suburban rail services? According to Boris Johnson's office, the £100m savings made over 20 years by devolution would enable the refurbishment of 100 stations. But as we know, the mayor is committed to further fare increases which could mean unhappy passengers seeing higher fares for an unimproved service before things reach London Overground standards. Ken Livingstone has pledged a 7% cut in fares which will obviously win him some friends among commuters but will he be able to provide the investment necessary for future infrastructure costs? Either way, Londoners will want to see those pre-election promises come to fruition.

Photo by Nick Holdstock

Last Updated 24 February 2012


Why promise cycle parking only for overground stations? Tube stations (where possible) should also have high quality cycle parking. Golder's Green has space for about 5. A rough sleeper beds down next to the bikes. There are always a few with bits missing, and there's a sign that warns that parking is at your own risk and theft is rife. Meantime, there's a covered arcade that runs up to a disused side entrance that could easily be turned into secure parking for a couple of hundred bikes.
Sort it, TFL!


TfL specify their train cpacity based on the number of passngers who can fit, standing accepted, on a peak hour service, whilst the TOC's are plagued by a bean counter mentality from DfT that counts only fixed seating, so that we get the dreadful 3+2 seating that no one wants to use the middle seat on and delivers narrow central aisles, which inhibit the speed of boarding and the ability to comfortably accommodate standing passengers, or bikes, wheelchairs, prams etc outside the peak hours (ie the 80% of the day when the trains are running with only 20% of seats filled against the times when they are filled to around 200% of seated capacity.

DfT thinking also wants to have fixed 10 and 12 car trains, to gain the marginal benefit of a few extra seats in place of unused driving cabs.  They are having to find a different supply model for these trains (hence the farrago of slippage in delivery of an actual order for Thameslink's new trains) because the banks who finance the current RoSCo's do not want to be landed with route specific fixed formation trains.  Further we lose the operational flexibility of taking up to 8 carriages off a 12 carriage train to maintain, and clean them at weekends, and outside peak hours, and the ability to deliver through trains to Bognor and Littlehampton that return 4-8 coaches to Victoria from say Horsham, as the train empties, or add extra coaches there as the train fills up inbound during the peak hours.  It also means that a serious failure on a single carriage means that a shortened train can still run, whilst such a failure of a fixed 12 coach train bins the whole service.  During the 2010-11 winter many trains kept running when one 4-car set 'tripped out' because the other units kept working.

Then we have the train paths and viability issue.  Some routes (notably the London-Brighton spine) cannot ram more train paths in through bottlenecks like the Balcombe Tunnel, and the restoration of the E Grinstead-Haywards Heath route (taking back the Bluebell Railway as a core route) or reconnecting Uckfield-Lewes to deliver a parallel route to the South Coast are  key measures on the agenda - even without a more intensive service.  A 15 minute frequency on Metro Routes might make some sense with TfL's Overground taking on a few more services where the inner stages of a TOC operated route are severely overloaded.  One I'd like to see is running from say Bowes Park or Gordon Hill to Canonbury and thence New Cross, providing a close parallel to the Moorgate (GN&C) line, with a purpose built match day station connected directly to the East Side avenue (bridge) for Emirates Stadium and removing the major headaches for Drayton Park, Arsenal, Caledonian Road and other stations locally.  The current Overground terminus at Clapham Junction might also be extended west to East Putney using available land (room for 2 additional tracks to Wandsworth Town) as the SWT services to Putney seem to carry heavy passenger loads in both directions during the peak hours.

So be canny about the Boris & Ken offers.  Their 'metro' system may well work with trains out to places like Redhill and Sevenoaks, but they won't want the Coastway, or East Kent destinations.  This is like a curate's egg, great merit in serving this up for some selected services, like the Overgound eventually delivering (or should we say restoring) an orbital railway with the South London Metro loop, but not a headlong rush to take over the whole shooting match     


"an apparent inability to run trains in either hot or cold weather". Actually this problem affects all third rail services, including the ex-East London Line part of your beloved London Overground - not just Southeastern. I can't see Boris or Ken justifying the vast costs of erecting over head line south of the Thames, so forget it. In any case the OHL often comes down in the wind or is pulled down by trains (the services out of Liverpool Street are dogged by both problems) - so be careful for what you wish for !

Running the high frequency tube is a very different proposition from running the London commuter rail services, which suffer from flat junctions, inter-dependent timetabled routes as opposed to simple unconflicted end to end service and the sharing of tracks with freight and faster trains. In any case under Boris stewardship hasn't tube reliability dipped well below that experienced on overland trains ?