Wow. This isn’t good.
From today’s Evening Standard:
Sadiq Khan’s bid to take over London’s suburban railways was halted in its tracks today.
[Transport secretary Chris] Grayling formally rejected Mr Khan’s proposal to take over Southeastern services from 2018, which would have been the first step towards Transport for London taking charge of all services up to the capital’s boundaries.
“Right now I think the last thing our railways need in London is deckchair shifting without a clear sign that there is something better on the other side,” said the Transport Secretary.
Take a look at what you could have won:
That map was produced by TfL, on the mayor’s instructions. But it wasn’t some cynical lefty power grab: the administration of the last mayor, Boris Johnson – a Conservative – was plotting something similar.
Grayling says he’s not ruling anything out for the future (hmmm). His argument seems to be that he doesn’t see why Transport for London would inherently do a better job of running London’s rail services than a private rail firm.
Perhaps this represents a distrust of the public sector (Tories gonna Tory). Or perhaps it’s a recognition of the fact that many of the problems facing London’s suburban lines have nothing to do with who runs them, and everything to do with history and track lay out.
Or perhaps it’s politics red in tooth and claw. Placing more lines in the hands of TfL means placing them in the hands of a Labour mayor. And…
Mr Grayling warned of a potential conflict between London’s needs and those of passengers from Kent and East Sussex, because long-distance and local trains share the same tracks.
“If you live in Guildford where’s the democratic accountability?” he asked. “Why should the Mayor of London be responsible for a train from Guildford or Dorking?”
…hmmm. Aren’t those… Tory constituencies?
It’s difficult to feel good about this. While there are some very good rail franchises out there, there are also some that give the distinct impression that they worry more about their shareholders than about getting commuters to work. Which, in their defence, they are legally required to do – hence, I’d rather have a body with London’s interests at heart setting the terms of their contract.
But apparently we’re not going to do that. I’m sure Chris Grayling has his reasons.
One thing that does slightly baffle me about this, though. At the moment, if the tube breaks, responsibility lies ultimately with London’s mayor. When a rail franchise breaks, responsibility lies ultimately with the secretary of state for transport.
Grayling has just made it clear that he’d prefer to remain personally responsible for the running of Southern Rail.
Well, it’s a position.
Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.