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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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide