diamond geezer

 Friday, January 22, 2016

TfL's London Overground to take command of the capital's entire suburban rail network

Wrong. By no means all of it.

South London to become rail nirvana.

Nah.

Still, it's good news. Plans have been announced to place more of London's suburban rail lines under the joint control of TfL and the Department for Transport. But that's all they are at the moment, plans, up for public consultation, and liable to change. A cynic might point out they've been launched just in time for a Mayoral election, boosting the credentials of the current incumbent and his party, and taking the wind out of the sails of the opposition. But realists will applaud and say "about bloody time!". By applying TfL's customer-focused expertise to troubled suburban lines, it's almost as if the government is embracing the nationalisation of London's rail network for the greater good.

Should proposals for a 'London Suburban Metro' go ahead, and there's no reason to assume otherwise, frequencies on key lines will be increased to at least an every-15-minutes service, more station staff will be visible throughout the day and Sunday services will be boosted. Capacity will be increased by providing fewer seats, turnaround times will be reduced through better signalling, and fares structures will (eventually) be rationalised. But don't expect to see much changing near you any time soon - a lot of this is years away from coming to fruition.

One stated aim is that "the network would be simple and easy to understand, with consistent stopping patterns and clear, identifiable routes", which might finally bring order to the impenetrable tangle of lines that flow through south London. This might also be the catalyst for existing Overground lines to get their own individual identity, even different shades on the tube map. TfL's boss confirmed as much yesterday, stating that they were "considering holding a public competition to help name the new lines which could also be assigned a separate colour on the map." What a tangled weave the tube map of 2030 might be... but best we don't consider that just yet.

What I would like to do is whizz round London's main rail termini, clockwise from Fenchurch Street, to see what effect this might have on existing services. It's not going to be as straight-forward as you might think.

Fenchurch Street (c2c): [no change]
The consultation paper singles out the line to Southend as an existing benchmark of excellence. Run by the most punctual of all the UK's train operators, it has tip-top passenger satisfaction scores and a long-term programme of planned investment. More importantly the government awarded the current incumbent a fifteen year franchise starting in 2014, so there's no likelihood of anyone taking over from National Express anytime soon.

Cannon Street/Charing Cross (Southeastern): [partial TfL takeover 2018?]
Here's the biggest prize. Southeastern are widely recognised as the least competent rail company in London, condemning those in the southeastern corner of the capital to a far more miserable service than most. But hurrah, their franchise is up for renewal, hence the Mayor can steal the inner suburban lines away, whilst leaving long distance services through Kent under the auspices of the new operator. That cheering you can hear from Lewisham, Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley is heartfelt.

London Bridge/Blackfriars/Victoria (Southern/Thameslink): [no change any time soon] [partial TfL takeover after 2021?]
Here's another operator held up in the report as a beacon of good practice, although existing commuters suffering regular delays and disruption might not recognise the description, especially as major works at London Bridge continue to degrade the service. But it's written into Govia's recently-awarded franchise that they will improve capacity, introduce longer trains and increase cross-London connectivity, much as TfL might have done. It also means the franchise won't be up for grabs again until 2021, and even then the government of the day could decide to extend the contract for another two years. Don't expect to see orange roundels at Streatham, Sutton or South Croydon any time soon.

Waterloo (South West Trains): [partial TfL takeover 2017 2020]
South West Trains' franchise expires in the summer of next year, which you might think would give TfL time to nip in and swipe it. Not so. The prospectus for the next franchise competition has already been released, so it's too late to backtrack for a 2017 start, so a different approach is being employed. Bidders will instead be "asked to produce plans for a separable business unit for inner London services", which will then be split off for transfer to TfL at a later date. And that's quite a bit later, specifically 2020 "once capacity works at Waterloo are complete". There are at least two Mayoral elections to go before Wandsworth, Kingston and the Hounslow Loop are welcomed back into the public sector.

Paddington (Great Western Railway): [no change]
Ah, but this is already being absorbed into TfL. The project in question is Crossrail, and it'll be taking over the main suburban line in 2018. There's still a slight issue over what happens to the minor Greenford shuttle, but that's just screaming out to be Overground-ed, so expect this to happen before long.

Marylebone (Chiltern): [no change]
Ah, but Chiltern are the darlings of the rail franchise world - what they haven't done to improve the line out of Marylebone isn't worth discussing. What's more their franchise doesn't expire until the end of 2021, and is likely to be further extended, so this is not on the table... which is perhaps a shame, because the service to Wembley, Sudbury and Northolt Park is pants.

Euston (London Midland): [no change]
No, this was swallowed up several years ago. The Overground took over the Watford DC line as long ago as 2007, so there's no further integration to be done.

St Pancras/King's Cross/Moorgate (Thameslink/Great Northern): [no change any time soon] [partial TfL takeover after 2021?]
Suburban trains from these termini are part of the same mega-franchise as trains from London Bridge/Blackfriars/Victoria - see above - so expect no immediate absorption of the lines to Mill Hill, Hadley Wood and Winchmore Hill.

Liverpool Street (Greater Anglia): [no change]
And this terminus has already been dealt with, thanks. The lines to Enfield, Cheshunt and Chingford became part of the Overground last year, the line through Tottenham Hale is pencilled in for Crossrail 2, and the line out to Shenfield is already TfL Rail and will soon be part of Crossrail. Yesterday's announcement is really all about south London, as you can hopefully now see, or might begin to start seeing in a couple of years. Bring it on?


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