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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Why the Labour rebels have delayed their leadership challenge

MPs hope that Jeremy Corbyn may yet resign, while Owen Smith is competing with Angela Eagle to be the candidate.

The Eagle has hovered but not yet landed. Yesterday evening Angela Eagle's team briefed that she would launch her leadership challenge at 3pm today. A senior MP told me: "the overwhelming view of the PLP is that she is the one to unite Labour." But by this lunchtime it had become clear that Eagle wouldn't declare today.

The delay is partly due to the hope that Jeremy Corbyn may yet be persuaded to resign. Four members of his shadow cabinet - Clive Lewis, Rachel Maskell, Cat Smith and Andy McDonald - were said by sources to want the Labour leader to stand down. When they denied that this was the case, I was told: "Then they're lying to their colleagues". There is also increasing speculation that Corbyn has come close to departing. "JC was five minutes away from resigning yesterday," an insider said. "But Seumas [Milne] torpedoed the discussions he was having with Tom Watson." 

Some speak of a potential deal under which Corbyn would resign in return for a guarantee that an ally, such as John McDonnell or Lewis, would make the ballot. But others say there is not now, never has there ever been, any prospect of Corbyn departing. "The obligation he feels to his supporters is what sustains him," a senior ally told me. Corbyn's supporters, who are confident they can win a new leadership contest, were cheered by Eagle's delay. "The fact even Angela isn't sure she should be leader is telling, JC hasn't wavered once," a source said. But her supporters say she is merely waiting for him to "do the decent thing". 

Another reason for the postponement is a rival bid by Owen Smith. Like Eagle, the former shadow work and pensions secrtary is said to have collected the 51 MP/MEP nominations required to stand. Smith, who first revealed his leadership ambitions to me in an interview in January, is regarded by some as the stronger candidate. His supporters fear that Eagle's votes in favour of the Iraq war and Syria air strikes (which Smith opposed) would be fatal to her bid. 

On one point Labour MPs are agreed: there must be just one "unity candidate". But after today's delay, a challenger may not be agreed until Monday. In the meantime, the rebels' faint hope that Corbyn may depart endures. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.