TfL to take over suburban rail services

Transport for Lonsdon has won its bid to takeover surburban rail services in the South east.Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and the London Mayor's Office have proposed a shake up in South London suburban rail services which hands over Department for Transport rail services to TfL when franchises come up for renewal. This would pave the way for extension of TfL's Overground service to south London boroughs.

The announcement sets out a new prospectus for rail passenger services in London and the South East to be delivered through a partnership between DfT and TfL. The proposals, which have been released for consultation for the next two months, include creation of a South London suburban metro that would give 80% of stations  a 15 minute interval rail service. New lines would be built and interchanges reconstructed to allow more capacity in South London.

Rail services that could be transerred to TfL include those operating in and out of London Bridge, Cannon Street, Charing Cross, Moorgate, Victoria and Warerloo. This would be done without detrimental effect on fares or longer distance services, the announcement says.

"We are working closely with TfL to agree the best way of delivering integrated, seamless journeys for passengers inside and outside London. As we continue these discussions we want to hear people's views," McLoughlin said.

Today's announcement has been welcomed by the London Assembly. The Assembly's Transport Committee recommended reform of South London's rail services in a report on rail devolution in October 2015. 

Responding to today's announcemeent, chair of the London Asembly Transport Committee, Valerie Shawcross said: 

“One of the main reasons why the Transport Committee advocated a devolved rail network is because we know that passengers want improvements on the rail service they use. They were most concerned with price and performance, which is perfectly understandable given the rising cost of rail travel. TfL has managed its Overground networks very effectively, so the majority of commuters would be happy to see them take control.

"It was clearly a no-brainer. The Government will have scored a big hit with passengers by agreeing to devolve additional rail franchises as they come up for renewal and I’m glad they finally listened to some common sense.”

The proposals will take some time to come about. The South Eastern franchise is due for renewal in 2018. Southern and Thameslink franchises will not be up for renewal until 2021. TfL will also need to find significant additional capital investment. A Centre for London report Turning South London Orange, released last week, estimated the costs for upgrade of the South London rail network at between £10 billion and £15 billion. This is against the backdrop of a £2.8 billion hole in TfL's funding, which the new Mayor due to be elected in May this year will have to fill through a programme of cost reduction and cuts to its capital spending programme.

Expected benefits of extending the Overground to South London are significant, however. London's population is forecast to grow from 8.6 million to around 10 million by 2030. According to Centre for London, extending the Overground into South London could provide all of the additional capacity needed for commuter travel up to 2050 and support development of over 16,000 new homes.

London's transport commissioner Mike Brown said: "People want to live close to stations and they want those stations to have good quality frequent services connecting them to jobs and to leisure. Providing such services is vital to the future success of our city, yet at present there are wide variations in the levels of service customers’ experience.

"Through this new partnership we will work with the DfT to radically improve the service that rail customers’ experience — integrating fares and information and bringing inner suburban rail services into public transport network. This will bring us closer to delivering what customers want and London’s economy needs — a reliable metro-style rail service that supports new homes and jobs and improves the quality of life for millions of people."