Ken: ‘I’d give Transport for London Southeastern’s metro trains’

London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone says he wants to see south east London’s rail network run by Transport for London – and says he’d agreed a deal to do just that before he was voted out of office in 2008.

Speaking to local residents and activists in Deptford last night, he said all London’s mainline rail services should be run along the lines of London Overground, the network he created in 2007 to take over run-down services in north London.

The Labour challenger’s comments follow current mayor Boris Johnson declaring last month that he also wanted to see all London’s railways taken over by TfL.

At present, Southeastern, along with other privately-run services, is free to set fares, acquire trains and decides on the level of service it wants to provide.

But under the model used for London Overground, TfL decides which services, trains and fares to offer – and keeps 90% of the revenue, leaving operator LOROL with the rest. Trains, stations and track have been upgraded, and the service linked with the old East London Tube line – and punctuality has shot up, along with passenger numbers.

Mr Livingstone told the audience:

If people can remember how bad the North London Line was – it was absolutely the worst railway line. We took it over, merged it with the East London Line, and it’s now Britain’s best railway. That cost one and a quarter billion pounds. It’s a lot of money, but it’s peanuts in terms of most major public investment projects.

If we ran all overland trains in London on that basis – if we can run a service that’s as reliable on our overground, why can’t South East Trains? [sic] They don’t give a damn. They’ve got a monopoly, they run a minimum service at the maximum fare.

One of the tragedies about my losing last time was that the Labour government had agreed to start transferring control of London’s overland train franchising to the mayor. They passed a law that allowed two people from outside London to on the TfL board to oversee it, and I was in negotiations with [transport secretary] Ruth Kelly to just take them over and run them like we do the Overground. And [Boris] Johnson just dropped all of that.

That’s something I want to come back to. It’s a power I want from the government, to become the franchising authority and set the same standard for south east trains as you’d expect from the London Overground. There’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be done.

With both the main challengers for next May’s election backing TfL taking over the rest of the capital’s mainline trains, and with TfL having commissioned a report into how this might work, it looks as if time could well be running out for the likes of Southeastern, whose franchise expires in March 2014.

It’s fair to say Southeastern won’t be missed, after recent fiascos with snow, the current saga of trains being mysteriously short of coaches and a continuing inability to communicate with passengers. Furthermore, recently-submitted planning documents show the company still plans to cut train services at many Greenwich line stations during next summer’s Olympics.

While some aspects of Southeastern’s service could be fixed relatively easily – such as staffing and customer service – it’s not clear where the sums needed to transform the train service would come from. On the down side, it could see the withdrawal of rail-only tickets in favour of travelcards and the more expensive, but more flexible fares that Tube and DLR users pay. But would this be a small price to pay for a much-improved service?

One thing is for sure – the political will is there, from both Ken and Boris. If you’re a hacked-off Southeastern commuter, it’s worth making sure both men – and their parties, the ones that created this mess in the first place – are well aware you want to see change.

With the coalition government considering longer train franchises for the rest of the country, we in south-east London might not get this chance again for many years.

8pm update: If you use Lewisham station, and find the locked exit on platform 4 (the one towards Blackheath) as annoying as I do, this petition may be right up your street

9 comments

  1. I havn’t been following too closely recently but are central government leaning towards devolving transport does anyone know? With the ever evolving circus of transport ministers who know where they stand this month?

    I find it hard to believe that a Tory govt would give power to a Mayor, especially Livingstone, and will Boris bother to chase it up? I think it would take Tory London Assembly members and councillors pressing hard for it.

    Whoever gets it, and I really do hope its TfL, will have a netwrok in the middle of massive upheavel and maintainance work – the London Bridge rebuilding project and Crossrail meaning a lot of line closures. Those will go on until 2018. Hopefully that sways it towards TfL.

  2. It has to be TfL.

    At least there is a modicum of accountability to the paying public there rather than shareholders.

    Southeastern is allowed to raise fares faster than other rail networks (inflation +3 percentage points I think it is) to help pay for the high speed link used by non-Londoners to commute in speed and comfort to largely highly paid jobs here.

    They come up here, get paid their money and bugger off back to the leafy countryside to moan about the appalling oiks who live in London. The link is of no real use for Londoners, but we’re expected to stump up for it!

    And as one that Southeastern took over an hour to get to Charlton from London Bridge last Thursday (hospital appointment at Guys) I am so glad I now only have to commute to Canary Wharf and don’t have to endre the daily disgrace of that is Southeastern.

  3. Gotta love Ken – “one of the tragedies of my losing last time…” Makes it sound like he Boris was elected on the spin of a coin. I’m no great fan of the public schoolboy but the London public preferred the prospect more than another round of Ken.

  4. I still don’t think the Ken camp has ever really come to terms with that.

    It’s a tragedy that he didn’t tell Londoners about this plan three years ago (assuming it existed) – he might have got a few more votes or persuaded Boris to nick the idea…

  5. Getting my specs on and going slightly off topic, I think everyone in the GLA contributes towards Crossrail whether they are near it or not
    http://www.crossrail.co.uk/railway/funding

    Going back on topic (or track, ahem), centralised carriage procurement is a good point. I’m sure someone knows more about this than I but don’t the franchisees source their own carriages? pure madness really

  6. Colin, my reference to the high speed link was not about Crossrail.

    There is a high speed Southeastern commuter service running from Ashford and Ebbsfleet to St Pancras that is nothing to do with the Channel Tunnel routes. SE Londoners face higher fare inceases because of it. But we see none of the benefits.

    When I studied economics all those years ago the privatisation of the rail services was seen as a ‘good thing’ because privatisation brought an ‘an inefficent use of resorces’ and ‘diminished economies of scale’ amongst other things. Your rolling stock example is a good one.

  7. Chris – apologies! Yes I’ve heard about the Hitachi train, great if you’re on the line.

    Am I reading your comment correctly that Privitisation was brought in to increase inefficencies? now that is barking. I thought it was part of the State shrinking exercise.

  8. Privatisation wasn’t brought in to ‘increase inefficiencies’ but that was one of the results.

    EG – One single entity has more purchasing clout than 20-odd different ones, with different agendas, cash profiles, contempt for paying passangers etc. That was what Network Rail was supposed to be all about (for the infrastructure), but it’s all gone Pete Tong.

    We have over 20 different management structures, purchasing managers, staff structures, HR departments etc etc.

    An inefficient use of resources according to Keynes — who was a leftie like me if you hadn’t guessed!!

  9. Sounds like an inefficent use of resources to me too. Though it does create plenty of jobs…

    I don’t know much about Economics, but as it is always mentioned in the news and you mentioned Keynes, I did try to read up on him however started getting seriously lost when they mentioned New Dawn, old Keynes, naive Keynes and then Milton Friedman. Though it does now make Milton Keynes sound awfully impressive.

    Great Link to London Reconnections website and the TFL report.

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