London Bridge chaos

MQT on 2015-03-25
Session date: 
March 25, 2015
Question By: 
Darren Johnson
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Can you update the Assembly on what you have been doing to bring an end to the chaos at London Bridge station?


Answer for London Bridge chaos

Answer for London Bridge chaos

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes.  This is about London Bridge Station.  Val, you and Darren have both asked about it.  The crucial point here, as I have said in this Assembly before - and I hoped that it would be widely publicised, but I discovered that you can say something in the London Assembly and people just ignore it, rather irritatingly - is that the chaos at London Bridge, in my view, is an overwhelming argument for the further devolution of rail to this city and further democratic control of our railways and our suburban rail networks.  I am grateful to you, Val, and to everybody around this horseshoe who has supported that campaign.


We have made progress.  On 31 May the suburban services out of Liverpool Street will be managed by TfL and on the West Anglia Line a few years later.  Passengers will immediately get the pay-as-you-go fares from May as a result of the deal we have done on the West Anglia Line.  The suburban services out of Paddington by 2018 will transfer to TfL as part of Crossrail.  The argument that we make to the Government is not only that this is hugely popular but that it delivers better services.  I think we are winning that argument.


Actually, the chaos at London Bridge has been helpful.  It was very striking that on 23 February when announcing the Long Term Economic Plan for London - and I know that Members for south east London will be heartened by this - the Chancellor said not only that he wanted to devolve skills to London and the other things we discussed but that:


“I think we should look at giving the Mayor more of a say over future commuter train franchises ... so we have one coherent transport system that serves well not just those who live in London, but those who come in every day to work here too.”


He singled out the Southeastern network and the possibilities there.  That franchise is coming up.  That is the next big prize.  In 2018 the suburban Southeastern services we think could be devolved subject to agreement by a future Government.  Obviously, Val, with your influence in the Labour Party, it would be great to hear that that has cross-party support as well.


Valerie Shawcross CBE AM:  Thank you, Mr Mayor.  I absolutely agree with you for once that it is really important to press the case now for devolution of rail.  I actually met with the Secretary of State for Transport last week with a number of Members of Parliament (MPs) and we urged him to take responsibility - because that is the system at the moment - for the chaos and to try not just to improve the situation but to give some decent compensation to passengers.  Really, they deserve 50% of their season tickets back.


I was happy to see that at last the Secretary of State had announced that there would be a review of the Network Rail board.  Believe it or not, I met Mark Carne [Chief Executive, Network Rail] this morning in London Bridge Station ‑‑


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  By chance?


Valerie Shawcross CBE AM:  He was there with Louise Ellman [Louise Ellman MP, Chair, Transport Select Committee] and I gave him a full account of the frustrations of south London passengers ‑‑


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Did he enjoy that experience, Val?


Valerie Shawcross CBE AM:  ‑‑ and of the knock-on impact on passengers on the rest of the network because there has been a huge knock-on impact.  Is it not appalling, Mr Mayor, that a London transport crisis that began in early January - actually, there were problems in the months before that - takes MPs going to see a Cabinet Minister in March to get anything like the kind of attention that we need to have this issue resolved?  I can tell you we have had lots of conversations with our front bench and there is a lot of support now for rail devolution, including amongst our most senior people.


Can you tell me what you have done to seize the moment and make sure this is the turning point for London getting control of its own railways?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You have made a lot of the points for me there and I am obliged to you.  We have had, obviously, endless meetings with Mark Carne and with the Department since the problems began.  One of the interesting features of ‑‑


Valerie Shawcross CBE AM:  Have you had a meeting with your Secretary of State, Mr Mayor?  Have you pressed the point with your Cabinet?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I do not want to go into the details of every meeting I have with Cabinet Ministers, but I have had abundant meetings with Patrick [The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, Secretary of State for Transport], with Mark Carne and with everybody on this issue.  One of the interesting features of this whole crisis is actually that the guy they now have in charge of sorting it is Phil Hufton [Managing Director of Network Operations, Network Rail], as you know, who is a fantastic operator and whom they nicked from us.  Network Rail nicked him from us at top dollar, by the way.  If anybody ‑‑


Valerie Shawcross CBE AM:  I agree that he’s absolutely great, but can I just point out to you that they have left in him charge of Network Rail’s national operations as well, which is too much for one man to do?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Can I just finish my point?  The basic problem is that there is no single political ownership of this crisis.


Valerie Shawcross CBE AM:  Agreed.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That is what I said to you in this Assembly a couple of months ago and that is why that it does underline the case for devolution.  If we had a problem like this at one of our big Tube stations like Victoria Tube Station, if we had this kind of crisis and this kind of congestion, it would be me.  My ass would be grass - or whatever - unless we fixed it and we would have to fix it fast.


However, the problem with the current situation is that we do not have control.  We do not see the timetabling.  We do not have access to the signalling decisions that are made.  These are not TfL decisions.  The sooner you have rail devolution in London, the sooner you will get proper accountability.  That is basically the only way to protect the travelling public from this kind of situation.  That is the argument that we have been making and it is very interesting now to see what George Osborne [The Rt Hon George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer] is saying.  The Chancellor absolutely gets it.


Valerie Shawcross CBE AM:  Thank you.


Darren Johnson AM:  I completely support your call that these franchises need to be devolved to TfL and for London directly to take control of the situation, but that is going to take time.  I do wonder what sort of leadership you are providing on this issue now.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Let me give you some examples, Darren.  Obviously, we are in constant touch with Network Rail and the train operators.  We are trying to make sure that all our customers have information about where the congestion is and how to use alternative routes.  TfL has deployed additional staff from the Special Requirements Team at stations affected by the London Bridge works.  We are increasing staffing where it is necessary to cope with the greater flows.  Staff have been deployed at Elephant and Castle, Waterloo, Southwark, New Cross, Canada Water and Victoria.  We are trying to help people across the network to reroute ‑‑


Darren Johnson AM:  It is not working, is it?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ and obviously we are laying on bus services where appropriate to try to cope with the problem.  TfL is absolutely there dealing with the problem, as you would expect, because we take full responsibility for managing the network that we are in charge of.  You would expect us to do that?


Darren Johnson AM:  Yes, but do you remember back in 2012 and the Olympics?  That was an absolute triumph for London ‑‑


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Thank you very much.


Darren Johnson AM:  ‑‑ in terms of efficient and effective management of the public transport system right across the board.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That was because TfL was in charge.


Darren Johnson AM:  We were told that so many lessons had been learned from that that could be applied to future situations not just in terms of crowd management, not just in terms of public information, but actually in terms of TfL and the different rail operators working together to come to a solution.  Why is that not working for London Bridge?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Actually, your memory is not wholly perfect because in the run-up to the Olympics there were serious anxieties and there were some things that went wrong.  We addressed them, but we addressed them by bringing people together.


Darren Johnson AM:  We were told that lessons had been learned.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The problem that we have at London Bridge is that they have grossly overestimated the benefits they would achieve by the resignalling they have so far put in and they are not able to deliver the numbers of trains that they were expecting.  There is, frankly, a cock‑up and we need now to manage that and we need to have a clear understanding of what can be achieved.


The broad point I am making - and I think it is one that Val [Valerie Shawcross CBE AM] certainly accepts - is that this is largely caused by the kind of drift you get when, basically, the thing is being run by a bureaucracy without the political terror that is necessary to drive change and improvement.  When we had the Olympics, everybody was conscious that when everybody started to arrive in London at the end of July, we had to get our city ready.  That was a massive imperative and a spur to co-operation, to exertion and to getting things done together.  You are not seeing that at the moment, I am afraid, at London Bridge.  One of the problems is that there is no overall political control and no oversight and that is what we would like to see.


Darren Johnson AM:  I know the situation is a mess.  I am not seeing much in the way of political leadership on behalf of Londoners from you on this.  I have checked your diary.  It appears you have had three meetings on this since January: two with Network Rail bosses and one with the Secretary of State for Transport.  Is that really enough given how many times this has been in the headlines of the Evening Standard?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That, I am afraid, is an underestimate of the number of meetings I have certainly had with Patrick McLoughlin about it ‑‑


Jenny Jones AM:  Your diary is inaccurate?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ and you would expect me to have regular conversations with Patrick, as I do.  By the way, there are constant meetings now going on between Isabel [Isabel Dedring, Deputy Mayor for Transport], TfL, Peter Hendy [Sir Peter Hendy, Commissioner, TfL], Mark Carne  and Network Rail to try to sort this out.


However, as I say, the silver lining - and it is a very considerable one - is that it will lead to further devolution to London.  I think people are seeing the political imperative to have a central locus of accountability.  That has to be democratically accountable to London.


Darren Johnson AM:  We are absolutely all around the whole Chamber completely at one on that.


Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  Hear, hear.


Darren Johnson AM:  We certainly want devolution of rail services to TfL and London.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That is the spirit, Darren.  That is the spirit.  With you on their side, who can lose, Darren?


Darren Johnson AM:  Absolutely.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is going to be fine.


Darren Johnson AM:  However, Londoners know that that is going to take some time and they are wanting to see more leadership from you as Mayor on this issue.  You have found time to visit Kurdistan, to have lunch with Rupert Murdoch [Executive Chairman, News Corp] and to unveil a statue of a horse in Trafalgar Square.  You have found time for loads of things.  You need to put your mind to the issue of sorting out London Bridge far more.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You do not like the horse?  Can I tell you about the horse?  It is very interesting that you should raise it.  What that horse in fact stands for ‑‑


Jenny Jones AM:  Off the point.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  He is objecting to the statue of the horse.  I am allowed to talk about it.


Darren Johnson AM:  I am not objecting to the statue of the horse.


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  Indeed, as the horse was mentioned in ‑‑


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The statue of the horse, of course, stands for transport infrastructure!


Darren Johnson AM:  Does the horse have a right of reply?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The horse stands for vital investment in transport infrastructure!


Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  We need a horse at London Bridge.


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  The horse does not have a right of reply, but it did seem that you were levelling a criticism at the Mayor and he is allowed to respond to it.


Jennette Arnold OBE AM (Deputy Chair):  No, it was an example.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Thank you so much, Roger.


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  Swiftly.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That skeletal horse, of course, represents transport infrastructure and the vital tubular structures that run beneath the surface of any great and beautiful city.


Jenny Jones AM:  This is absolute nonsense.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It commemorates the huge investment that we are making in the Tube and the Piccadilly line ‑‑


Darren Johnson AM:  A few horses at London Bridge might work better than the train services at the moment!


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The pity of it is - and here I think you and I are at one, Darren - that we are in City Hall not given more control over the suburban rail services that we need in order to deliver happier outcomes and faster outcomes at London Bridge.