Boris bids to control London's suburban railways

Mayor of London Boris Johnson wants the government to put London’s suburban railway network in his hands.

Johnson believes he can improve the services offered on the routes by integrating them into the Transport for London (TfL) network. He has vowed to provide more frequent services, with safer and cleaner stations if he is handed control of the contracts, while saving “millions of pounds”.

London Overground has been used as an example of how rail services can thrive under the TfL umbrella. The former Silverlink Metro route has become one of the best performing rail services in the UK with a reliability rate of 96 per cent, while customer satisfaction is also high.

Creating one integrated rail network for the capital would allow the introduction of a simpler fares structure and higher levels of customer services, Johnson believes.

The changes could save £100m over 20 years and go towards bringing more than 100 stations up to London Overground standards.

Johnson said: “The fractured organisation of London’s suburban railways is totally inefficient and needs a complete overhaul. My vision is for one integrated suburban service operating to the standards we have demonstrated can be achieved on London Overground, which is now one of the most reliable and popular railways in the UK.

“There are 85 million trips each year on London’s rail network that could benefit from this approach. Devolving the commercial franchises would allow us to invest millions of pounds in improving stations and to simplify the ticketing system.”

Labour mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone announced similar proposals to take control of London’s suburban rail network last month, accusing Johnson of ignoring the services and leaving passengers to pick up rising fares.

Livingstone pledged that no suburban rail passengers would be worse off if he was elected and they could benefit from his promised seven per cent reduction in fares.

Saving Londoners money is likely to be a key feature of both candidate’s campaigns ahead of May’s election.

Last week, Johnson announced a reduction in his share of the council tax which will result in London households paying £3.10 a year less towards the cost of City Hall.

Johnson has frozen the cut taken by City Hall from council tax for each of the last three years, but has come under pressure from Conservative and Liberal Democrat Assembly members to reduce his cost to the taxpayer.

The council tax precept will fall from £309.82 to £306.72 under the mayor’s revised budget, after the initial version did not allow for a cut.

London TravelWatch, which represents the interests of transport users in and around the capital, has backed the plans outlined in Johnson’s Rail Vision document.

The group’s vice chair David Leibling said: “This is something London TravelWatch has been advocating for several years. We hope that today’s proposal will lead to all London’s rail services reaching the much improved quality of London Overground services since TfL took over, with decent standards for stations, enhanced ticketing facilities, additional staffing where appropriate and improved passenger information.

“The Rail Vision publication supports a number of our recently published transport users’ priorities, in particular, providing frequent and comprehensive public transport, which we have been discussing with all the prospective candidates for this year’s mayoral elections.”

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