London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for Transport for London (TfL) to be put in charge of the failing Southern Railway as Government officials denied colluding with the company to avoid removing its franchise.
City Hall said a team from TfL would run Southern services until the Government is able to resolve the longer-term problems that have led to widespread disruption for commuters.
London mayor Sadiq Khan
Last week, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which operates the huge franchise of which Southern is a part, brought in an emergency timetable for Southern, with 350 trains cancelled a day.
At that time, Mr Khan described Southern as ‘an embarrassment to our city’ and asked the Department for Transport (DfT) to take temporary control of its services.
Now, in a letter to new transport secretary Chris Grayling, the mayor has gone further, calling for TfL to be put in charge on a temporary basis.
In his letter Mr Khan said: ‘Thousands of Londoners and longer-distance commuters simply cannot get to and from work, and are understandably furious.
‘There is no doubt that the franchise must now be in default, and I have previously called for your Department to step in and take control.’
Mr Khan has also urged ministers to work with his team on putting in place a speedier timetable for the transfer of suburban rail services to TfL in order to improve efficiency.
On Wednesday (20 July) new transport minister Paul Maynard appeared with DfT officials before the Transport Select Committee.
Committee chair Louise Ellman pointed out that, under the revised timetable, only 12% of Southern mainline trains arrived on time. She asked whether the DfT had agreed the timetable as ‘a devious arrangement’ to avoid removing the timetable from GTR.
DfT official Peter Wilkinson said: ‘There was no collusion to produce a timetable that would effectively prevent them from breaching their obligations under the franchise agreement. That was not the purpose of the timetable.’
However, Mr Wilkinson was unable to tell MPs whether the DfT had agreed an application from GTR for a ‘force majeure’ clause to be invoked, allowing the company to breach its franchise obligations.
He told Ms Ellman: ‘I don’t think we have invoked force majeure at this point in time,’ but said that he would have to confirm the position later.
Transport Network approached the DfT for clarification on the issue of force majeure.