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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.