Integration in the South East

4 March 2019
Back in May 2018, a timetable change prompted a near-collapse of service provision in several parts of the UK. Passengers across the North and in the south east of England were particularly hard hit.
With another timetable change in-bound, an informed insider considers whether proper transport integration might prevent the same thing happening again.

I could write a long technical essay about the mess with the 2018 timetable changes but – frankly – it would bore people half to death.

Given that the Department for Transport (DfT) were chiefly responsible by holding onto a flawed timetable specification and refusing to take the advice given by all sides that more time was needed/the spec was too rigid/the timetable needed adjusting, you’d have thought they’d have learnt their lesson.

Yet, somehow, they seem to keep making things worse day by day. Indeed, the momentum behind a radical shake-up of the railway’s structure is growing quickly.

Is nationalisation the answer? No. Is there some other magic bullet that will put everything right overnight? No.

Decentralisation and devolution

I believe that local devolution and a comprehensive restructuring of franchises is the answer.

This has to be linked with the recreation of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) as an independent transparent representative body with real powers, with the DfT looking after high-level policy and the interface of the industry with Parliament.

How would I go about this? The South East needs a single sub-national transport body (STB) covering incorporating Greater London as well, looking after metro and inter-urban rail as well as buses and highways. For far too long we have suffered a form of silo thinking on transport. Civilisation doesn’t end at the M25!

...metro services should be incorporated into the London Overground model as originally proposed in 2016...

So, Transport for London (TfL), Transport for the South East (TfSE) and the county transport departments are merged into a single STB. In terms of rail, how might this work?

Well, instead of franchising we would use the successful concession approach of TfL. The metro services should be incorporated into the London Overground model as originally proposed in 2016 by the then SofS for Transport and Mayor of London.

Crossrail 2 – for free

However, I would go further and suggest that the Thameslink line (with perhaps a modicum of remapping south of the Thames) becomes Crossrail 2, again run under concession as per Crossrail 1 (the Elizabeth line). The current Crossrail 2 project gets renamed Crossrail 3 and is pushed forward rapidly.

With regard to what is left south of the Thames after remapping of Thameslink, that is the remnants of Southeastern, Southern and South Western should be grouped and let by the new SRA as a long-term franchise but one which is co-specified and co-signed with the south eastern STB, including full integration of ticketing/smart-ticketing and the same standards of public information, timetable integration, staffing and the welfare of disabled passengers.

...the remnants of Southeastern, Southern and South Western should be grouped and let by the new SRA...

North of the Thames, the same such standards should be applied to LNER, GWR, Chiltern, LNWR, EMT and GA services within the new STB area. No, I haven’t missed out c2c! That would be incorporated into the Overground.

Fares? A comprehensive and fair zonal system based on the TfL model incorporating an updated Oyster card with contactless as well, all aimed to eliminate the current plethora of systems and exceptions. This integrated system would also apply to buses within the region, much as it does today in London.

Not a panacea

Now of course I won’t claim that this a panacea and everything will get better over-night. It isn’t, and it won’t. But it is a basis to enable the region to develop a fair and cost-effective integrated transport system.

This will not subsume everywhere into London, nor will it favour one area over another – it mustn’t. But what it will do is enable a wonderfully diverse region to realise and facilitate its potential in a modern country.

Could this apply to other areas of England? Well, yes it could – England will probably be split into a total of five transport regions.

We need rapid action to enhance services and facilities. Enhancement of capacity on key urban and inter-urban rail corridors; regionwide smart ticketing; region-wide cycle hire linked to the ticketing system; an emphasis on facilities for the disabled; re-establishing strong bus services; encouragement and facilitation of walking and cycling; car-clubs keyed into ticketing so you have a hire vehicle waiting at your destination…

I’m not imagining a paradise on earth (theological or political) – just a situation that will allow everybody, be they a driver, pedestrian, cyclist, bus or rail passenger a fair “crack of the whip” in every sense.

Author's face

Whilst people are generally able to speak their mind these days, occasionally those embedded within the rail industry have something they wish to say but cannot do so with their name against it… Much as we will try to avoid too many of these pieces (as we’d prefer an open, honest debate), sometimes an insight is too good not to share.

In any case, enjoy a window into the railway world that might otherwise not exist!

Permanent Rail Engineering is an engineering consultancy focussed on planning, design and management for sustainable transport, including railways. The views of our guest bloggers aren't necessarily exactly the same as ours, but you can be sure that there's a good overlap on transport matters.