As the contest for the London mayoralty gets closer, and the war of words intensifies, the role of suburban rail services has entered the spotlight following Ken Livingstone’s past assertion that these should fall under the remit of Transport for London (TfL), rather like the London Overground (LO) network which was created from an otherwise disparate set of heavy rail and former Underground routes.
Only, as Adam Bienkov has noted, occasional mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has not been totally consistent on this: a year ago, he concluded that the prospect was “not politically liveable”, whereas with an election looming he has decided that a favourable piece in the Standard suggesting he will miraculously make other suburban services as good as LO is, well, just the ticket.
However, much of the LO network does not have any other passenger trains running on it – the exceptions being the approach to Richmond (shared with the District Line), Queen’s Park to Harrow and Wealdstone (shared with the Bakerloo Line) and beyond New Cross Gate (shared with SouthEastern and Southern). This last is where the challenge lies, where longer distance trains compete for the same tracks.
But there are a range of candidates: the lines to Chingford, Enfield Town, Cheshunt and Hertford East is one group, and those to Dartford and Hayes another (both noted by the Standard). The effectively self contained Romford to Upminster shuttle could be transferred more or less tomorrow, given the will. And the Moorgate to Hertford North and Welwyn Garden City services could then be added.
There are also services out to Shenfield from Liverpool Street, and from Waterloo to Shepperton and Hampton Court (plus potentially other destinations) that could follow in the future. Most of these services are already operated separately from longer distance trains, but there are potential problems creating distinct LO areas at all London terminal stations and major interchanges.
Moreover, there will be staff to transfer and train, negotiations over pathing, working out of Network Rail’s track access charge regime, a variety of train types to assimilate into the overall fleet – the current financial situation would rule out much in the way of new trains for some time – and dozens of stations to rebrand and refurbish. This is not a trivial exercise.
That complexity is likely to be why Bozza baulked at the prospect last year, and why many will be sceptical of his ability and willingness to stay the course should he emerge victorious in May. My own take on this is that Bozza is electioneering, and if he is returned to City Hall, there will be a considered rethink and the idea will be quietly dropped.
Voters should remember these two words before voting Boris: caveat emptor.