TLC welcomes axing of plan to break up Kent’s railways

Tonbridge Line Commuters recently issued the following Press Release in response to the Department for Transport’s decision not to “devolve” Southeastern metro services to Transport for London:

A rail passenger watchdog has welcomed the news that Kent rail services will continue to be run by a single company. The Department for Transport had threatened to split up services by handing control of suburban services to Transport for London under plans for so-called devolution.

On 6 December the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced that these plans had been abandoned. Echoing concerns from Tonbridge Line Commuters, he recognised the potential conflict between the needs of London and Kent passengers, particularly when trains run on the same tracks. He also accepted that there was a democratic deficit in the proposals, which would have given the Mayor of London control of services outside Greater London. The announcement means that the South Eastern franchise will continue to operate as a single business, with the potential for greater integration under plans bring together the management of trains and tracks. This follows a vigorous campaign against the devolution proposals by passenger group Tonbridge Line Commuters, with support from local MP Tom Tugendhat and his predecessor Sir John Stanley.

Tonbridge Line Commuters was particularly concerned about the practicality of the proposal. It was unclear whose trains would get priority in the event of train failure, signalling problems or a few flakes of snow. The two operators would also been in competition for train paths, rather than allocating them equability between suburban and longer distance services. In short, the splitting up of train services between two operators would have led to a fundamentally less joined-up approach which would be the detriment of passengers in both Kent and London.

John Morton, Secretary of Tonbridge Line Commuters, said: “We are delighted that the Transport Secretary has recognised the strong arguments we put forward to keep Kent’s railways operating together as a single unit. Transport for London is politically accountable to the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, elected solely by Londoners, and would not have been the right body to act in the interests of Kent commuters.”

Tonbridge Line Commuters has also given a cautious welcome to plans to put trains and track under a single management team in new franchises, starting with the South Eastern franchise in 2018. It is unclear whether this will be enough to end the blame game between Network Rail and train operators, but the proposals are a step in right direction. The Government is right to pursue the integration of the railways rather than promote their further fragmentation.

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