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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

West Anglia Overground Foul-Up

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

During the Comprehensive Spending Review announcements from the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, the news for Londoners was that “West Anglia Suburban Rail Services” were to be devolved to Transport for London (TfL), and become part of the Overground brand. But someone has been a little economical with the actualit√© here.
Because what has not been told is what “West Anglia Suburban Rail Services” actually means. So yet another firing up of the Speculatron is in order: did the Government have in mind the old West Anglia Great Northern (WAGN) franchise that ended some years back? If it did, then First Group might have something to say about First Capital Connect (FCC) being split up so soon after the franchise began.

And Abellio, the external arm of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), might have some interesting comments to make about some of its Greater Anglia franchise being abstracted. In both cases, there would be a number of stations where keeping the Overground part completely separate (as with the exclusive use of two platforms at Clapham Junction) might prove problematic.

The easiest routes to split out would be the ones from the former Great Northern part of WAGN that operate out of Moorgate to Welwyn Garden City and Hertford North (with some services extended beyond the latter to Letchworth). The West Anglia ones would present the biggest problems, not least with the use of London’s Liverpool Street terminus. There would be little scope for more services.

Then comes the splitting out of “suburban”: will the Overground involvement extend only to the Enfield, Chingford and Hertford East services? Will the Stansted Express be thrown in, as it serves one of London’s three main airports? And who will run the stations where Overground will share with at least one other operator (Liverpool Street will, like Euston, continue to be run by Network Rail)?

So there is going to be a lot of work to do even before this addition – whatever its extent – to the Overground brand. And, unless TfL can magic some extra funding from somewhere, one thing that won’t be happening with the transfer from franchised operator to TfL will be the new trains that made such a difference to existing Overground routes. So the new operator would soldier on with the existing stock.

Some of those trains are 36 years old. Many of the remainder that TfL might be expected to take on are past their thirtieth birthday. And with TfL’s budget being cut, there may not be much in the pot for significant station improvements. So whatever optimistic noises may be emanating from occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the reality is that there is unlikely to be a new reality.

That means the new train service will be the same as the old one.

[UPDATE1 28 June 1425 hours: my thanks to William Lucas, who has obtained the information from Greater Anglia about which of their routes will devolve to TfL. There are just three: Liverpool Street to Chingford, Enfield Town and Cheshunt (via Southbury).
 So services to Hertford East are not included, and nor are Stansted Express ones. As there has been no word from FCC about services out of Moorgate, it has to be assumed that these, too, are not part of the package.

That's not such a great expansion of the Overground brand - and, as I've already noted, it comes with trains that are over 30 years old, and little prospect of new ones]

[UPDATE2 2 July 1735 hours: Mayor Watch has now confirmed the routes to be devolved to TfL, and that this will happen in 2015. Their report uses a photo of a Class 378 electric multiple unit, the standard for new Overground trains, but whether TfL could fund any more of these is doubtful.

Moreover, Bombardier, who built the trains, may have closed the production lines by then. It will be an interesting challenge for the Overground brand to deliver improvements when they share much of the mileage with other operator's services, and with trains that are over 30 years old]

1 comment:

Andrew Heenan said...

Not sure why you refer to this as an "Overground Foul-Up", while history tells us it will probably a good move for the affected areas.

Also, the precedent of separate lines was never going to happen; the 'metro' suburban toutes are inextricably linked to other lines,around most parts of London.

Finally, a shame they didn't get Moorgate, which would have been logical and sensible.