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Way clear for further London rail devolution

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Transport for London should take over commuter rail services in the capital’s south after Kent CC dropped objections concerning routes that cross its boundary, a London Assembly report has said.

The move would see TfL take over suburban routes as current rail franchises end - as it already has with the London Overground network - and could serve as a model for combined authorities in other conurbations that gain powers over rail.

Ministers rejected the idea in 2012 because of Kent’s objections.

But the county has now dropped its opposition to TfL controlling services into Dartford, Gravesend and Sevenoaks after the government’s advisory Airports Commission ruled out London mayor Boris Johnson’s favoured scheme for a new airport off the county’s northern coast.

Matthew Balfour (Con), Kent’s cabinet member for environment and transport, told an assembly hearing: “Your mayor had eyes on building a large airport in Kent at Medway…the time was not right politically for any sort of dealing with anything that had anything to do with London.”

Kent has instead set a series of ‘red lines’ concerning fares, capacity and protection of main line rail paths, all of which TfL has accepted.

The report Devolving Rail Services to London said Kent and other counties bordering London, such as Hertfordshire and Surrey, should be represented within TfL’s governance to ensure accountability.

TfL has argued that south London’s growth is held back because train franchises cover both long distance and commuter services and with the former being more profitable operators have little incentive to invest in local services even though there is spare capacity.

PTEG, which represents the metropolitan area passenger transport bodies, said wider devolution of rail in London should parallel moves in the regions.

“While there is still a way to go until all [conurbations] have a similar degree of devolved rail powers as those which Merseytravel and TfL already have in the case of Merseyrail and the Overground network, the move towards greater devolution has already borne fruits,” its submission to the assembly said.

It pointed to Rail North, a partnership between the DfT and local transport authorities that will let future Northern and Trans-Pennine franchises, and a similar initiative developing in the West Midlands.

Assembly transport committee chair Valerie Shawcross (Lab) said London Overground had delivered “transformational” change for the better since it began in 2007.

She added: “We set out to discover whether devolving control of other rail franchises is likely to have the same impact. We believe it can.”


Picture: mattbuck

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