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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.

Mayor of London – Rail Pledge

(First published on 9 January 2017 on our old blog site)

Sadiq Kahn recently issued a pledge of what he would do if he was devolved powers to run the suburban rail services in and around London http://www.london.gov.uk/rail-pledge and I would recommend everyone to read it and sign up for it, to support its intent. I am very much in favour of devolution and would suggest you also read my blog http://sergblog.southeastrail.org.uk/towards-a-devolved-and-dynamic-south-east-network

However, each of the 5 points does need to be put into some perspective especially about timescale and funding.

Now to some degree funding is the easiest one to comment on. When TfL was given control over the old Silverlink Metro lines in 2007 to create the original London Overground, the DfT was only too grateful to get it off their hands! They even gave TfL a large chunk of cash to fund infrastructure improvements, stations, etc., which also allowed them to procure new trains (the Class 378s although this was done through leasing rather than outright purchase). When TfL took over the West Anglia Inners in May 2015, the DfT transferred it ‘as is’ in other words there’s no cash and any improvements had to be funded within TfL’s overall budget – hence the slow progress with station improvements, etc.

If TfL is granted the devolution of suburban rail I can guarantee that it will be on the same terms as West Anglia ‘no cash transfer and improvements come out of existing TfL budget’.   That budget is already being severely squeezed.

So let us take a look at each point in turn:

  1. Fares frozen until 2020 While the Mayor has frozen TfL fares across London’s transport network, the Government has allowed private train companies to increase rail fares by an average of 2.3 per cent this year.  If TfL assumes responsibility for suburban rail services, fares on these services would also be covered by TfL’s fares freeze.’ 

Yes he can do that immediately BUT only for those fares he directly controls. Given that TravelCards and capping have to be coordinated with National Rail and that DfT policy is that fares rise each year in line with RPI so that commuters pay the lions share of the service they use – it’s not likely he can 100% honour that pledge. Just as some fares rose for commuters this year whilst TfL controlled fares didn’t.

  1. More trains and fewer delays ‘Fit-for-purpose higher performance trains will lead to reduced time waiting in stations and faster journey times. Working alongside Network Rail, improvements to track, junctions and signalling will lead to increased train frequencies.’

Several comments here. Almost all trains on the services he is proposing to take over are very modern. The 377s on Southern, the 375s and 376s on SE, the 450s on SW and the soon to arrive 717s on GN Inners. They are already fit-for-purpose higher performance trains. Reduced waiting time in stations is governed by a number of factors but generally lack of modern trains isn’t one of them. Faster journey times depends on capacity and infrastructure, which leaves improvements to track, junctions and signaling – which are of course owned and controlled by NR and funded by DfT – not TfL. (Quick fact! Did you know that the only part of London Overground where the tracks and stations are owned by TfL is the section between Dalston Junction and New Cross Gate!)

The kind of money needed to solve the problems of the south London rail network are not within the gift of TfL. Point 2 can only be achieved in medium to long term – say 10-15 years.

  1. Safer stations ‘TfL would ensure there is staffing of all stations at all times, from the first train to the last train. More ticket barriers will also be installed at every London station to tackle fare evasion and make the network safer with stations cleaner and brighter.’

Yes he can do most of this in the short-term. It will cost money that will have to be found from within the TfL budget. As for ticket barriers even on West Anglia TfL are not proposing to install barriers at every station because of cost. If you look at a number of LO stations on the original ex-‘Silverlink’ lines there are no barriers at about 25% of them. This latter point about ticket barriers was perhaps superfluous or at least should have been reworded with ‘where needed…’ and will be almost impossible to achieve in the short-term.

  1. Less disruption ‘There are fewer strikes, delays and cancellations on TfL services compared to commuter services like Southern, Southeastern and South West. The number of days lost to strike action on TfL services has reduced significantly since Sadiq Khan became mayor.

  The evidence is clear that commuters get a better service when organisations like TfL engage and talk with train unions. This is in contrast to the Government which has completely lost control of the Southern crisis.’  

Oh dear! I am writing this on a day with a tube strike that he was unable to stop – this whole point 4 becomes very much a ‘hostage to fortune’. Let’s not also forget that the tube dispute has been rumbling on since the last days of the Livingstone mayorality so to claim there are less disputes and a good relationship with the unions on TfL is to say the least hopeful, to say the worst disingenuous. The point about a reduction of disputes since he became mayor (in May 2016) is to say the least irrelevant and makes him look foolish based on todays events – whoever wrote this for him needs a serious lesson in political writing style – or a new job writing the scripts for ‘The Thick of It’.

Whilst I don’t want to discuss Southern, I wasn’t aware that there had been continuously ongoing and serious industrial disputes on SE and SW. Again, this makes the whole thing look political, even amateurishly political rather than sympathetic to the plight of commuters.

Timeframe for all of this? Unknown!

  1. Better service ‘TfL would run services using a model where the operator focuses purely on train service reliability and high quality customer service. Services would be fully integrated into the rest of London’s transport, including Oyster and contactless payment at every station where it doesn’t exist today.’

Timeframe – Immediate. This is just stating the blindingly obvious and not really a pledge except for a handful of stations that would come into Oyster – like Epsom, which is the constituency of Chris Grayling!!