Boris losing battle over London rail

BORIS Johnson has failed to convince Whitehall that he should be given control over suburban rail services in London, with civil servants in the Department for Transport fighting a rearguard action to block his bid for control of routes into Liverpool Street, Cannon Street, and London Bridge.

City A.M. understands that the Mayor’s ambitious proposal to let Transport for London take over commuter services from the existing Southeastern and Greater Anglia rail franchises is under threat.

The plan was unveiled as part of the Mayor’s 2012 re-election bid, when then-transport secretary Justine Greening signalled that she would support proposals to replicate the highly-successful London Overground model across swathes of the capital.

A decision on whether to go ahead had been due last month, with TfL operating services to destinations such as Bromley, Dartford, Sevenoaks and Hertford by 2015.

However, Greening’s replacement, Patrick McLoughlin, has been more reticent with his support and it is understood that top DfT civil servants have taken advantage of the change in leadership to push for the plan to be abandoned.

There is a backlog in the rail franchising system following the West Coast Main Line fiasco, and one DfT source suggested devolving inner-London lines would be a distraction at a time when many major inter-city routes are up for tender.

Johnson’s plan, which has cross-party support in the capital, promises cleaner stations, more regular services and reduced bills for taxpayers.

But commuters who use the same lines to travel into the capital from well outside of the M25 have raised fears that their routes would lose priority status if TfL takes over the core services.

Last month MPs who represent Kent constituencies met with ministers and asked them to reject Johnson’s plan.

Yesterday a source close to the Mayor insisted City Hall remains hopeful that the DfT will agree to devolve at least some control over the desired routes because “the case is compelling”.

McLoughlin is now expected to make a decision by the end of the summer.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “We continue to be convinced of the strength of our case for devolution of rail services within London to the responsibility of the Mayor and TfL. Discussions with the government are continuing and the success of the London Overground management contract shows what can be achieved.”

“We have delivered better train services, refurbished stations and as a result seen much higher passenger satisfaction levels. We believe we can deliver similar improvements to other routes within London,” they added.

A DfT spokesman said: “We are still discussing the options for the capital’s future rail services with the Mayor of London.”