Grayling ‘political point scoring’ in leaked letter on devolution of rail lines

PUBLISHED: 15:22 07 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:22 07 December 2016




Proposals had been set out for TfL to take over Southeastern services

The transport secretary has been accused of putting politics ahead of passengers after a leaked letter showed he opposed the devolution of suburban rail services in the London area to keep the network “out of the clutches” of a Labour mayor.

Chris Grayling announced on Tuesday that he would not be handing control of routes currently operated by Southeastern to London Mayor Sadiq Khan despite the Government and then-mayor Boris Johnson publishing a joint prospectus in support of the measure in January.

The Evening Standard published a letter written in 2013 by Mr Grayling to Mr Johnson in which he said he was against the policy.

Mr Grayling, who was justice secretary at the time and was writing in his capacity as MP for Epsom and Ewell, wrote: “I would not be in favour of changing the current arrangements - not because I have any fears over the immediate future, but because I would like to keep suburban rail services out of the clutches of any future Labour mayor.”

He also said he wanted MPs and local authorities outside of the Greater London boundary to maintain their “remit” over train services in their areas.

Explaining his decision not to devolve control of the lines run by Southeastern, Mr Grayling said the business plan presented by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan did not offer extra capacity and was simply based on “a belief that Transport for London (TfL) can run the system more effectively”.

He added that he does want TfL to be “more closely involved” in the network with a representative on the franchise specification team.

But following the publication of the leaked letter, Andrew Dismore, a London Assembly member for Labour, said: “It’s the greatest shame for passengers that the minister’s political point-scoring has seemingly taken precedence over their needs.

“The fact remains that where TfL have managed services, we’ve seen some of the best performances.

“If allowing TfL to manage suburban rail franchises will mean paying passengers get better, more reliable services, then we need to move past this pettiness and make it happen.”

Department for Transport figures show that more than a third of rail passengers have to stand on trains arriving in parts of London in the morning rush-hour.

Commuters on the Southern network have suffered months of delays and cancellations partly caused by strikes over changes to the role of conductors and high levels of staff sickness.

Mr Khan, who had hoped to take over responsibility for the South Eastern franchise when it is up for renewal in 2018, said: “The only proven way of improving services for passengers is giving control of suburban rail lines to TfL.

“This is why the Government and previous mayor published a joint prospectus earlier this year. There is cross-party support for this from MPs, assembly members, councils inside and out of London and businesses and their representatives.

“Anything short of this simply won’t make the improvements desperately needed. It is a fact, TfL lines have more frequent trains, fewer delays and cancellations, more staff at stations and fares are frozen.

“We will keep pushing the Government to deliver the rail devolution they have promised and that is needed.”

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