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Thameslink, Great Northern and all that jazz………..yawn! Some more thoughts.

Don’t worry I haven’t changed my mind since the previous blog.  Just some more musings about how to develop the concept of a Regional Transport Authority.  And a few other bits and pieces too!

First of all, an elected Regional Transport Authority incorporating TfL but NOT run by the Mayor of London of the GLA.  Any authority would need a fair and transparent governance structure just as much as a fair and transparent funding structure.  The problems in and needs of, for example, Epsom are not necessarily the same as those of Brighton or Islington or Cambridge or Maidstone or Slough. It’s vital that the structure reflects this so that different areas don’t get forgotten but also that local solutions can be evaluated as they may apply (adapted as necessary) to others. Equally that all areas don’t feel as though they are being swallowed up into some faceless amorphous mass.  That’s why purely local affairs and services must remain under local elected authorities, be they city, borough, county or unitary.

I hear you all saying, very good but not possible to achieve?  Well if you don’t try you’ll never know.  This is an idea we really haven’t tried in England before and with good will and consensus it IS achievable. IF we actually want to get something done for the good of all.

The operating side of the Authority must draw in the best professional and technical talent from Rail, Highways and Bus operations.

Next.  The region needs to assess exactly what it needs in terms of infrastructure and facilities to ensure seamless connectivity not only within the region but with adjacent areas and the rest of the country. Essential not only for people to get around but also goods and services to be delivered cost-effectively.  The region must facilitate all forms of transport for the good of all and for the economy in all its varied manifestations.  Now you might think I’m verging into some sort of politics – well I’m not.  This is all about the good of all – that’s not politics – it’s just plain good sense.

Next.  Could this apply to other areas of England?  Well, yes it could, given the same general provisos and considerations as stated above.  I could foresee England split into a total of 5 Transport Regions.

Lastly.  As far as the (greater) South East Region is concerned, we need action now!  Apart from rescuing us from the mess that DfT has made of the rail timetables, we need rapid action to enhance services and facilities.  Now don’t interpret ‘rapid’ as overnight……it just isn’t possible. But we do need a short to medium term programme say achievable in 5-10 years from the get go.  Enhancement of capacity on key urban and inter-urban rail corridors; regionwide smart ticketing; an emphasis on facilities for the disabled; personal safety and security for all; cost-effective delivery of services for all; bus-service franchising and re-establishing services; highway repair and maintenance; upgrading key road junctions; encouragement and facilitation of walking and cycling (perhaps region-wide cycle hire also linked to the ticketing system?); car-clubs keyed into ticketing, so you have a hire vehicle waiting at your destination.   These are all just headline ideas and not exclusive or limiting others.

I’m not imagining a paradise on earth (theological or political), just a situation that will allow everybody, be they a driver, a pedestrian, a cyclist or rail or bus passenger a fair ‘crack of the whip’ in every sense.

Thameslink, Great Northern, and all that jazz……….…yawn!

Well over a year ago I wrote a blog about how we need to aim for an integrated network in the south east and I haven’t changed that view.

I could write a long technical essay about the recent mess with timetable changes but frankly I don’t intend to do that.  Firstly, it would bore people to death and secondly the DfT keep making things worse day by day.  They, after all are responsible for most of what’s happened by flogging a flawed timetable specification and refusing to take the advice given by all sides, TOCs, NR and even independent consultants that the spec was too rigid and needed adjusting as well as more time to implement……………..see…….you’re bored already!!!

So, is there a magic bullet that will put everything right overnight?  No.  Nationalisation is the answer…….No…….how much more than (currently) 90% government control and chaotic small-minded micromanagement do you want?

I still believe that local devolution and a comprehensive restructuring of franchises is the answer.  But that has to be linked with the recreation of the Strategic Rail Authority as an independent transparent representative body with real powers; matched with the DfT being there to look after higher policy and be the interface of the industry with Parliament.

So, if I had my wish, how would I go about this?  In the South East Region, we need a regional transport authority covering all the Home counties around Greater London BUT incorporating Greater London as well, looking after metro and Inter-Urban Rail as well as Buses and Highways.  For far too long we have suffered a form of silo thinking on transport.  Civilisation doesn’t end at the GLA boundary!  So, TfL, TfSE and the county transport departments are merged into a single authority. BUT.  This authority must NOT be dominated by or even run by the GLA or the Mayor of London.  It must be a truly democratic transparent institution equally representing all within its boundary and reflecting local as well as regional needs and priorities.

In terms of rail how might this work?  Well, instead of franchising we would use the successful concession model of TfL.  The metro services should be incorporated into the London Overground model as originally proposed in 2016 by the then SofS for Transport and Mayor of London.  However, I would go further and suggest that the ‘rump’ Thameslink line (with perhaps a modicum of remapping south of the Thames) becomes Crossrail 2, again run under concession as per Crossrail 1 (the Elizabeth line).  The current Crossrail 2 project gets renamed CR3 and is pushed forward rapidly.

With regard to what is left south of the Thames after remapping of Thameslink CR2, that is the remnants of Southeastern, Southern and South Western be grouped under the name of Southern Railway (a nod towards history but by no means nostalgia) and let by the new SRA as a long-term franchise but one which is co-specified and co-signed with the SE regional authority, including full integration of ticketing/smart-ticketing in the SE system and the same standards of public information, timetable integration, staffing and the welfare of disabled passengers.

North of the Thames, the same such standards be applied to LNER, GWR, Chiltern, LNWR, EMT and GA services within the SE regional area.  No, I haven’t missed out c2c!  That would be incorporated into the Overground.

Fares?  A comprehensive and fair zonal system based on the TfL model incorporating an updated Oyster card with contactless as well. All aimed to eliminate the current plethora of systems and exceptions that require you have a master’s degree in logic in order to just get from point A to point B.   This integrated system would also apply to Buses within the region, much as it does today in London.

Now of course I won’t claim that this a panacea and everything will get better over-night. It isn’t, and it won’t.  And, a system of fair funding is essential from all authorities within the SE Region area.  But it is a basis to begin. And it will enable the region to develop a fair and cost-effective integrated transport system. However, this will not subsume everywhere into London – extremely undesirable, nor will it favour one area over another – it mustn’t.  But what it will do is enable a wonderfully diverse region to realise and facilitate its potential in a modern country.