Livingstone bids to run all London rail groups

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The Independent Online

Ken Livingstone will unveil plans this week for a massive expansion of the Greater London Authority's transport empire, to take over key elements of the main rail network in the capital.

Transport for London already runs the buses and is about to take over the Tube network. But under the Mayor's blueprint it would have the power, with the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), to choose commercial companies to operate two newly created train operating franchises. They would cover urban "metro" commuter services in the north and south of the capital.

As part of the Livingstone plan his transport authority would also take a major stake, again with the SRA, in a new regional organisation to replace Railtrack in London and the South-east. Mr Livingstone and his transport commissioner, Bob Kiley, believe Railtrack, currently in administration ahead of becoming a not-for-profit company, should be broken up into regional infrastructure organisations with strong equity participation by the train operating companies.

The proposals will be revealed on Wednesday by Mr Kiley in a submission to a Commons select committee.

Mr Kiley will tell MPs that Transport for London should have more power over commuter train services in the capital because of their overwhelming importance to the city. About 500,000 people a day travel into central London on national rail services provided by 12 separate franchisees, Mr Kiley will point out.

A written submission to the committee says: "There are too many franchises to give London a consistently managed commuter operation... marketing is totally fragmented and inconsistent. The financial pressures on the franchisees are making fares integration extremely difficult."

Mr Kiley will point out that approximately half of all national rail passenger journeys originate or terminate in the London area. The paper concludes: "Without structural change to the Railtrack management structure and the specification and control of franchises serving London, it is difficult to see how performance can improve and how significant increases in service levels can be delivered."

The document sets out 10 main objectives, including an immediate start on major rail projects such as the East London Line Extension, Thameslink 2000, Crossrail and Hackey-South West.

There should be more and better services on London's orbital rail network and replacement of irregularly timed services. Trains should also increase in length.

The paper calls for a "sensible" interchange policy for passengers travelling on national rail services and London Underground. There should be proper fares integration so that national rail prices are aligned with fares on the Underground.

Although Railtrack produced an annual network management statement there was no process for prioritising its plans. The paper argues that Railtrack has shown itself to be "incapable" of managing large infrastructure projects.

Under the strategy Transport for London would become a commuter rail transit authority, which would attempt to impose far greater coherence on travel in the capital.