Hand more suburban rail to Tfl says think tank

A new report by the economic and social think tank Centre for London says South London's suburban rail network must be upgraded and Transport for London allowed to take over rail franchises serving London from the south. This would make way for TfL to extend its successful Overground network across the southern boroughs of Greater London and will be essential to cope with travel demand and accommodate expectations for growth in the capital, the report says.

TfL's Overground has been largely hailed as a great success since it was created from upgrade of the North London Line and other routes to create an orbital network of orange branded stations and services. Trains run at intervals of six minutes or less to provide a turn up and go service at peak periods. The Overground's reach into South London is limited, however. The majority of people commuting from southern boroughs have to rely on overcrowded services travelling into central London from the southern counties.

The Centre for London report Turning South London Orange was sponsored by Atkins, Thales, Canary Wharf Group and the London boroughs of Greenwhich, Lambeth, Lewsisham and Southwark. The report says 'orange standard' high frequency commuter rail services could be extended to the southern boroughs through a programme of track, signalling and station upgrades and a series of key junction remodelling projects. This would not come cheaply however. Centre for London estimates this would cost between £10 billion and £15 billion over a period of 25 years.

The proposals would also necessitate the Department for Transport devolving station and train operating powers to TfL. The London Mayor's Office and Transport for London are understood to be already discussing these plans with DfT. Speaking to Infrastructure Intelligence last month, deputy mayor for transport Isabel Dedring said how to make better use of London's rail network to accommodate housing and population growth was one of the key issues facing the next mayor.

In response to the Centre for London report, the Mayor's Office said: "The success of London Overground shows exactly what can be achieved on the rail network. We think London deserves even more metro-style rail services and are in discussions with the Government to try and make that happen."

Transfer of rail franchises would mean TfL potentially operating trains outside the Greater London Authority boundary. According to Centre for London, Kent and Surrey County Councils have signalled their support for this as long as it does not adversely affect existing services. The changes would also mean different standards of rolling stock and train systems sharing the same track corridors so creating timetable bottlenecks. This could be resolved, says Centre for London, with formal integration via a single franchise let jointly by the counties of Surrey, Kent and East and West Sussex.

A TfL spokesman said: "The South Eastern franchise is the next due for renewal in 2018. We will be considering if and how we can take over some or all of these services in due course."


The North London line was a great success for Overground - investment in staffing, safety and new rolling stock released a lot of latent demand. However the case in south London is less clear. Do we want Overground stock - fewer seats on the trains so people are standing for 45 minutes? Do we need to spend millions on hugely elaborate surveillance systems, when simpler NR standard systems have proven sufficient? Above all, do we want to lock in high operating costs which will have to be at the expense of investment in capacity improvements? South London needs better options for journeys like Croydon to Lewisham and Canary Wharf to release capacity on routes into the centre. Poorly served areas like Rotherhithe, Bromley Common and Biggin Hill should be included in the transport network. Other lines should be served by longer trains for more of the day (many routes still have rammed 6 car trains in the rush hour, although the stations will accommodate 8 or 10). These things matter. TfL having an even bigger budget to splurge on radio adverts and billboards does not. I'm no fan of the TOCs, but TfL are not a panacea.
London Borough of Greenwhich? Really?