Belfast Telegraph

London mayor rejects minister's 'fundamentally flawed' rail services plan

London mayor Sadiq Khan has rejected Transport Secretary Chris Grayling's "fundamentally flawed" approach to suburban rail services in the capital.

He declined the minister's invitation for a Transport for London (TfL) employee to work with the Government on the South Eastern franchising process.

Mr Khan wanted TfL to run suburban services currently operated by rail firm Southeastern when its franchise agreement ends next year.

But in December Mr Grayling announced he would not devolve responsibility for the routes to the mayor as he claimed TfL's business plan did not offer extra capacity and was simply based on "a belief" that the organisation could run the system more effectively.

Mr Khan said: " Sadly, the Government's proposals for commuter rail services are no different to what we've seen before and I fear passengers will face more years of unacceptable service levels. It is a repeatedly tried and failed approach.

"I am therefore left with no choice but to walk away from the Government's fundamentally flawed plans."

Mr Khan believes separate contracts on suburban routes and long-distance services are needed to improve reliability.

The mayor said Mr Grayling's proposals for the South Eastern routes are very similar to what TfL has been asked to do before, and insisted that TfL's use of incentives based on performance ensure passengers' needs come first.

He added: "Londoners, councils, MPs and Assembly Members know the huge benefits that TfL can deliver.

"It's not too late for the Transport Secretary to change his mind and deliver proper devolution for the good of long-suffering commuters inside and outside of London."

Mr Grayling was accused of putting politics ahead of passengers over the issue last month after a leaked letter showed he opposed the policy as he wanted to keep the network "out of the clutches" of a Labour mayor.

The Evening Standard published the letter written by Mr Grayling in 2013 to then-mayor Boris Johnson.

Mr Grayling was justice secretary at the time and was writing in his capacity as MP for Epsom and Ewell.

Earlier this week Paul Carter, the leader of Tory-run Kent County Council, expressed his opposition to Mr Khan controlling rail services in the area.

Kent intends to accept Mr Grayling's offer of working in partnership on South Eastern franchising.

The Transport Secretary wrote to a number of major businesses in London this week explaining his decision to oppose devolution.

In one letter seen by the Press Association, Mr Grayling wrote: " Instead of this disruptive reorganisation, splitting the franchise and potentially adding complexity to a crowded network, I have set out plans to work jointly with TfL and Kent County Council to specify the franchise.

"Under this arrangement TfL and the mayor will have more of a say in the franchise than ever before."

He added: "The mayor has never explained where the money would come from to facilitate rail devolution, and TfL's business plan is largely silent on this.

"In practice this means that he would have little choice but to raid the TfL budget to pay for rail devolution, which might mean delaying much-needed improvements across the rest of London's transport network, or he would have to raise council tax for Londoners."

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: " We are determined to improve journeys for rail passengers across London and the South East.

"It is disappointing that the mayor has refused the offer of partnership working to design the new South Eastern franchise."

In January 2016 the Government and Mr Johnson published a joint prospectus in support of handing control of routes - including those currently operated by Southern, South West Trains and Southeastern - to TfL.