Crossrail prepares for renationalisation (by other countries)

Over half of the bidders to run the new railway are foreign nationalised rail firms.

TfL has announced the four companies it has approved to bid for operational control of Crossrail. The company which wins the franchise will run the train services and stations, as well as providing staff, for the London metro rail service, which is due to open with a partial service in May 2015.

MayorWatch reports:

The companies shortlisted to bid are: Arriva Crossrail Limited, Keolis/Go Ahead, MTR Corporation (Crossrail) Limited and National Express Group PLC.

Just to break that down a bit: Arriva is a wholly owned subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, which is the German national rail company and is majority-owned by the German government; MTR corporation is the Hong Kong national rail company and is majority-owned by the Hong Kong government; and Keolis is majority-owned by SNCF, the French national rail company which is wholly owned by the French government.

National Express and Go Ahead, the other half of the Keolis/Go Ahead consortium, are both UK-headquartered FTSE 250 companies.

In other words, fully half of the companies which are bidding to run Crossrail are the nationalised rail companies of other countries; and another quarter of the bidders is a joint venture involving the nationalised rail company of another country.

That follows the creation of London Overground Rail Operations Limited, the company which runs the London Overground concession. That franchise, which is consistently one of the best, or the best, on the whole National Rail network, is run by a consortium of Arriva and MTR under the control of TfL.

Nationalisation: apparently quite good in practice?

Original post, "Why Crossrail's new roundel matters more than it seems", 13 May 2013 13:54

Transport for London revealed further information about how the Crossrail franchise is to be run yesterday, confirming that it would be run as a managed concession in the style of the London Overground.

TfL will stipulate the services which must be provided, as well as owning the trains and track. The private company which wins the franchise will be responsible for running the train services and the crossrail-specific stations along the route, as well as providing staff, but it will not be given the freedom, which most national rail franchises have, to dictate hours of operation and staffing levels.

The news comes as TfL announced the branding that Crossrail would receive as part of London's transport mix; the service will get its own roundel, in a fetching purple shade (that's it above). As the London Reconnections blog points out, that's a more notable piece of news than it first appears:

As Crossrail’s TBMs tunnel beneath London, and its stations begin to take shape (more on both of those shortly) it is easy to forget that there are still some important questions that remain to be answered politically and strategically about the line.

The funding question may have dominated the discourse whilst the line pushed for approval, but it mustn’t be forgotten that Crossrail will also push well beyond London’s borders. In doing so, it will take TfL—and more importantly their authority and systems—with it. At a time when TfL and the DfT have yet to agree on what role London’s transport authority will have with regards to franchising, that’s potentially a very hot political potato.

The most similar existing train franchise to Crossrail, the Thameslink service, is a typical national rail service, run by the First group. As such, First runs its stations, Oyster cards are not accepted outside of travelcard zones 1-6, and TfL has very little say over most of the operations.

Owing to the devolved nature of London transport, the capital is slowly building a different model of how to run a suburban rail system to the one preferred by the Department for Transport. There is still hefty private-sector involvement, but the planning is far more centralised, and, cable-car aside, TfL has seen far fewer missteps than its competitors.

Earlier this week, the Department for Transport was forced to back down on a plan to increase commuter pricing even more than it currently does. The Financial Times reported on Sunday that:

The government was also urged just weeks ago by the Commons’ transport committee to rule out a shake-up of fares.

The committee said it feared that proposals for more “flexible ticketing” would end up being a “tax on commuters” who had no choice over when or how they travelled. The committee said there were limits to what the policy could achieve: “Many lower-paid workers have no choice but to travel at peak times,” the report said.

The first Crossrail services will run from May 2015 between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, Essex. Commuters on that line will see double the number of trains per hour, and new rolling stock from 2017. For them at least, the change is likely to be undeniably positive.

Image: Transport for London

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.