A new think tank report has concluded that a Rail North-style body for the south east of England may be required to manage future rail demand

 

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A Rail North-style body to manage the south east network may be required to ensure future demand for rail travel in south London can be met, a report by the Centre for London think tank has concluded.

It was informed by an advisory group including senior Network Rail and Transport for London planners and chaired by former transport ministers Steven Norris and, in its early phase, Lord Adonis – now chair of the government’s National Infrastructure Commission (PT119).     

The study, Turning London Orange, projects that demand for rail travel on the south London network will double over the next 30 years. It sets out a £10-15bn upgrade programme to deliver service standards similar to those on TfL’s existing London Overground concession and raise frequencies to a minimum six trains per hour to support rising patronage, growth in employment and new housing.

The programme, informed by consultancies Thales and Jonathan Roberts Consulting, includes replacing flat junctions with flyovers, automatic train operation, new signalling systems, high capacity rolling stock designed to reduce dwell times at stations, and new transport interchanges in south London town centres.

The study calls for immediate devolution of suburban rail routes to TfL as franchises expire as a “valuable step” towards implementing the required increase in capacity on the south London network and as a means of tapping into funding from businesses.  However, the report suggests this form of devolution “may not be enough to deliver the full [Overground] frequencies” required, due to potential inconsistencies in rolling stock and standards with DfT franchises sharing the route.

As a result, it recommends that devolution may need to be extended to a wider ‘Capital to Coast’ body which would manage a single south London and south east England concession. It would be made up of TfL and county councils, and based on the Rail North model. “This would allow coordination of standards across the network and full exploitation of the network’s potential capacity,” the report argues.

In his foreword, Norris said a Rail North-style body may also be required as a fair means to resolve county councils’ concerns over devolution of power to TfL, particularly to “reconcile the necessarily competing demands of regional rail users commuting into London with those who use the system in London itself”.

He considered that this presented a greater barrier to TfL gaining control over rail services than it had in north London, describing it as a “Gordian knot that has so far not been cut”.

“Modelling a solution on the recently formed Rail North, the authors make a good case for a governance regime that is fair to all sides,” Norris concluded.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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