Southern Rail

MQT on 2017-01-18
Session date: 
January 18, 2017
Question By: 
Florence Eshalomi
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Will the Mayor continue to pressure the Government and Trade Unions to make Southern Rail users happier this year?


Answer for Southern Rail

Answer for Southern Rail

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Assembly Member Eshalomi, I can give you a very clear answer to this one: yes.  I have repeatedly called on both sides to get around the table and sort out this unnecessary and unacceptable dispute.  I will continue to do so and I repeat that call to them today.


The wilful failings on Southern Rail are symptomatic of much wider problems and it is clear that the operator is not fit to run rail services in London.  Let us be clear.  Southern was failing even before this round of strikes and, on every single measure, should have been stripped of its franchise long ago.  That is what somebody standing up for Londoners would do.  On numerous occasions, I have called for the Government to give TfL emergency control of Southern Rail.  I have a top team ready to send in at a moment’s notice to help to sort it out and bring an end to the misery suffered by passengers.


The clear longer-term solution is to give control of London’s commuter rail services to TfL, which would mean a more reliable, frequent and affordable service.  This is why I am calling on the Secretary of State for Transport to reverse his decision on rail devolution.  Just 14% of Londoners now back his stance and it flies in the face of cross-party support, including from this Assembly.  It is time for him to revisit his decision.  The Transport Secretary’s offer for a TfL employee to work with the DfT on the Southeastern franchising process is derisory.  I simply cannot commit to participation in this deeply flawed refranchising process.


What is important here is to put party politics aside and deliver the rail service passengers and businesses urgently need and deserve.


Florence Eshalomi AM:  Thank you. You have outlined some of the issues and you were making some good headway in terms of that cross-party support and so it was such a shame to see Kent County Council pull out from that.  Obviously, it is siding with Chris Grayling [Secretary of State for Transport] on that.  What ‑‑


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Can I just deal with that?  We always have to be careful about local politicians being put under pressure by national politicians.  The Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association does not agree ‑‑


Florence Eshalomi AM:  With the Council, yes.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ with the letter written by the Conservative Leader of Kent.  The Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association wrote to Councillor Carter and was very unhappy with the misrepresentation of its position by the Conservative Council.  That is one of the dangers of a tribal politician using party politics rather than passengers’ interests when it comes to making decisions.


Florence Eshalomi AM:  If we see other political groups pulling out, what impact do you think this will have on your overall plan for rail devolution?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Look, I have been quite clear.  As far as the Transport Secretary’s Southeastern model is concerned, it has been tried, it has been tested and it has failed.  Bearing in mind that we spend more than £250,000 and a huge amount of time, effort and energy responding to that and providing a business plan, it is not going to work and so we have rejected the offer made by the Transport Secretary there.  Let us see what happens with Southern and Southwestern and hope that cooler heads prevail.  There is cross-party support.  There is support from local, Assembly and Parliamentary politicians.  I am just disappointed that a reshuffle meant that a political Transport Secretary took this job and all that hard work seems to have been undone.


Florence Eshalomi AM:  Mr Mayor, one of the issues that keeps coming up, as you know, is the issue of driver-only operated trains, which we know has been used on the London Overground network quite a number of times.  In your view, do you believe that London Overground trains are safe or do you agree with the RMT that a driver and a guard need to be present at all times?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The driver-only operated trains that we have are safe.  Otherwise, we would not be using them.  The trains that would come under our control should the Transport Secretary accede to the previous agreement would also have driver-only operation and so there is no issue.


Florence Eshalomi AM:  Finally, the last thing is that there is some good news that has just been announced.  Southern Rail wishes to restore its full train service from next Tuesday.  I do not quite believe that ‑‑


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Can I just say?  This did not come about by megaphone diplomacy or by smirking from the side-lines.  This came about by discussion around the table and agreement being reached.  It may be just temporary, but that is how you resolve differences.  Whether they are personal, professional or industrial relations, you resolve differences by talking around a table.


Florence Eshalomi AM:  Thanks for that, Mr Mayor.


Fiona Twycross AM:  I have to declare an interest as a Southern Rail user myself.  I welcome the question from my colleague, Florence Eshalomi, and also - with a slight note of cynicism - the restoration of the 100% timetable, which will be a massive relief for many fellow commuters.


It is easy to underestimate the impact this has had on people.  I witnessed a woman almost in tears on Monday.  She had been at the station for almost an hour.  Two of the four trains at peak time had been cancelled and the two that did run were considerably shorter than their normal lengths.


I would just like to say: please do continue your efforts and diplomacy.  What can we do to help you in terms of continuing this campaign to bring Southern under TfL control?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Firstly, thank you for just reminding us of the misery that poor service causes.  It is worth reminding ourselves also that the misery was there before the industrial dispute.


Fiona Twycross AM:  Yes, absolutely.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Govia Thameslink is the worst train operating company (TOC) in the country and there is evidence to confirm that in the data released recently.  The Government has to get a grip.  The Government has to say to the TOC, “You have to sort this out or we will strip you of the franchise”.  It is already past the stage of there being enough grounds to strip the TOC of the franchise.  You will remember that we were in Government we stripped TOCs of their franchise and East Coast took it over.  I do not see why the Transport Secretary is not standing up for commuters and standing up to these privatised TOCs.  That is what I would like to see.


In the meantime, we have to carry on putting pressure on the Transport Secretary in relation to the common-sense solution to commuter services in London.  A one-size-fits-all model does not work.


For evidence of that, look at London Overground.  London Overground was one of the worst services in the country.  To give Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone [former Mayors of London] their due, it was taken over by TfL.  It is still a private company providing the service, but the concession model means that we have the levers to make sure it can do what it is supposed to be doing - providing good quality services and value for money - and we can do the rest of the stuff.  Look at the Anglia service from Liverpool to Shenfield.  That is another example where the way that TfL operates the line means that one of the worst operated lines is now one of the best.


That is why having one member of TfL going to the DfT to help with the franchising process will not help anything and that is why I have rejected Chris Grayling’s offer.  What we need is to look at the cross-party work undertaken over months and years and, hopefully, persuade Chris Grayling to see sense.


Fiona Twycross AM:  Thank you.