By Daniel Hunter

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, will ask the Government to hand over to him the power to franchise the suburban London railways so that he can greatly improve the services they offer.

In a vision for the capital’s railways published today the Mayor explains how he wants the Government to devolve to him the power to set the standards for the rail services run by the private train companies.

By integrating them into the Transport for London (TfL) network, and by adopting TfL’s contracting model, the Mayor believes he can make millions of pounds of savings that could be used to provide more reliable and frequent services, safer and cleaner stations, more staff and simpler fares.

The Mayor has cited the improvements he has overseen to London Overground services as the prime example of why this should happen. The former Silverlink Metro franchise services were poor quality with old trains, neglected stations, bad customer service and high levels of fare evasion.

However, since TfL took over the network and established London Overground, those services have been transformed into one of the best performing in Great Britain, with a reliability rate of 96% and some of the highest levels of customer satisfaction in the country.

As a result demand has shot up by 110 per cent over four years on the original London Overground network (and 190% when the newly extended East London Line is included). Fare evasion has been cut from 16 per cent to 4 per cent. In the first year of TfL’s operation alone, crime fell by 19 per cent.

The demand for rail in London is set to increase with the capital forecast to grow in population by 1.3 million, the equivalent of a city the size of Birmingham, by 2031. In his vision for rail the Mayor argues that the current franchising system, which has created two distinct networks, one operated by TfL and one managed by the Government, must be reformed.

He says that the creation of one integrated network will allow the maximum possible benefit to be derived from them. It would result in consistent and high levels of customer service and safety backed by a single and far simpler fares structure.

The new approach is lower cost since it does not ask train companies to price risks such as levels of demand largely driven by economic conditions. The money - £100 million over 20 years — saved by ending the expensive and inefficient system that is currently operated would mean TfL could look to bring over 100 stations up to London Overground standards. Transport for London has identified a set of customer service standards that they would apply across the rail franchises in the capital. They are:

- Service frequency — a turn up and go frequency of at least four trains an hour throughout the week

- Passenger security — improved security with networked CCTV and help points at all stations, plus improved lighting and more stations gated to reduce antisocial behaviour.

- Station ambience — improved stations by deep cleaning and refurbishing.

- Staffing — a visible staff presence across the network throughout the day, offering proactive assistance to customers.

- Customer information — visual and public address systems providing real time service information supported by the best and most comprehensive online and mobile enabled journey planning system anywhere in the world.

- Cycle parking — high quality cycle parking facilities to promote cycling as a means of access to stations.

The Government has said that it is willing to look at flexible ways of franchising local rail services, and it is believed that they will begin a consultation on the possibilities around devolving rail franchises at the end of February. In the next four years, six London-area franchises come up for renewal.

TfL has identified the franchises currently operated by Southeastern and West Anglia as priorities for devolution when those franchises come up for renewal in 2014.

“The fractured organisation of London’s suburban railways is totally inefficient and needs a complete overhaul," the Mayor said.

"My vision is for one integrated suburban service operating to the standards we have demonstrated can be achieved on London Overground, which is now one of the most reliable and popular railways in the UK.

"There are 85 million trips each year on London’s rail network that could benefit from this approach. Devolving the commercial franchises would allow us to invest millions of pounds in improving stations and to simplify the ticketing system.”

The Mayor’s strategy also examines the need to continue to provide investment in rail capacity to meet the demands of an ever increasing population in the capital. He has identified the need for an extra 1,700 carriages on the inner suburban railway by 2020, the workhorse of the capital’s economy.

This would make a real difference to Londoners’ quality of life. The strategy also predicts that by the 2020s a Crossrail 2 running north to south will be required to address capacity issues in London and provide congestion relief to the Victoria Line in particular. It will be needed with even greater urgency if Parliament approves the construction of a High Speed 2 network serving Euston, to help disperse the additional passengers arriving there.

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