County bosses deny conflict with Transport for London and Sadiq Khan over metro rail services
PUBLISHED: 16:26 16 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:28 16 May 2017
KCC has suggested TfL could have pumped more cash into new trains, but would not necessarily have improved services
Transport bosses at Kent County Council have dismissed any suggestions of a rift with London mayor Sadiq Khan as they this week outlined their priorities for the next south eastern rail franchise.
The government’s transport secretary Chris Grayling came under fire last year for rejecting Mr Khan’s proposals for Transport for London to take control of metro services currently operated by Southeastern.
Conservative Mr Grayling was accused of putting politics ahead of passengers after a leaked letter showed he opposed the devolution of suburban rail services in the London and north Kent area to keep the network “out of the clutches” of a Labour mayor.
As the government’s consultation on the new franchise, set to commence in 2018, draws to a close this month, KCC’s principal transport planner for rail, Stephen Gasche, suggested TfL could have pumped more cash into rolling stock, but would not necessarily have improved services.
His comments back up those of Mr Grayling, who has denied any politicisation, insisting Mr Khan’s business plan fell short - a claim the mayor denies, saying his case sets out “substantial benefits” for passengers in the region.
Indeed, earlier this year, Charlie Elphicke, who was the Conservative MP for Dover and Deal at the time, told the House of Commons he thought London was acting like “a Hunger Games-style capital seeking to subjugate Kent”.
The Tory-controlled KCC, however, has publicly supported the mayor’s plans and admitted disappointment when Mr Grayling ruled out such a move last autumn.
Quizzed on whther reliability of metro services in north Kent would have improved with TfL in control, Mr Gasche told us: “It’s difficult to say, that all depends on the relationship between Transport for London and Network Rail.
“If TfL had been offered the franchise they would have been able to access a lot more capital investment for new trains, for example, but the service level, at least for the initial years, would have been the same.
“But we are where we are, and we’re operating with a network that gives us high speed, mainline and metro services, and we need to make sure it’s right in all those parts.
“I think there’s a difficult relationship between the mayor’s office and the DfT but there isn’t any problem at all between the mayor or TfL and KCC, we work closely with TfL officers anyway on all sorts of things.”
Managing director of Southeastern, David Statham, said the firm had made significant improvements to its services in recent months, with 94 per cent of trains arriving within five minutes, and 72 per cent arriving on time.