Credit: DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

TfL's suburban train takeover is no silver bullet

Commuters will welcome the move but the capital's transport problems are a long way from being resolved.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 10 Feb 2016

London’s commuter trains are ‘shit,’ Sir Peter Hendy told MT last year, and plenty of their passengers would surely agree. The former Transport for London boss jumped ship before he had the chance to do anything about it, but his successor is now poised to take over all of London’s suburban rail services.

London’s mayor Boris Johnson today announced plans to take over short-distance trains from London Bridge, Cannon Street, Charing Cross, Moorgate, Victoria and Waterloo as their franchises come up for renewal over the next five years. The first trains to be consumed by TfL will be those currently operated by Southeastern, in 2018, followed by Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern trains in 2021.

‘[Our railways] are key in the day-to-day lives of millions of people and vital to our future prosperity, and that’s exactly why this new partnership is such a seminal moment,’ BoJo said. ‘By working closely together and taking on these new services, we’re going to emulate the success of the London Overground and give the entire capital and surrounding areas the services they truly deserve.’

This is certainly welcome news - Hendy’s sweary criticism was not unwarranted. A quick look at the Twitter accounts of any of the capital’s train operators gives a pretty clear picture of how angry their customers are getting with delayed services and overcrowding. The problem is particularly acute for those living south of the Thames, most of which have to make do without access to a Tube station.

Handing over control of the services to TfL would allow the whole network to run more seamlessly. It would also bring greater political oversight. A mayor whose fate is determined partly by how well the city’s transport system operates will work damn hard to make sure that trains run on time.

But the plight of London’s commuters is not simply a problem of the train operators’ making. The capital’s population continues to expand and even the forthcoming promise of Crossrail (and Crossrail 2, unless the cast of Made in Chelsea get their way) can only do so much to alleviate that. TfL does a pretty decent job of running the Tube and bus networks, but as continued industrial disputes demonstrate, it's far from perfect. 

It’s not unlikely that in a couple of decades white collar workers will spend most of their working lives at home, hooked up to virtual reality offices. Until then they will have to make do with the horror of the 8.05 to Waterloo.

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