This weekend saw the addition of 28 new stations to TfL’s hugely successful Overground network. Rail services running from Liverpool Street to Enfield Town, Cheshunt and Chingford in North East London, as well as the rail link between Romford and Upminster are now all under the jurisdiction of TfL.
The takeover marks a major step forward for TfL in their campaign to take over more of the Capital’s railway network. They built their case on the back of their creation of the London Overground brand, which has transformed neglected and decaying infrastructure into a hugely successful and popular service.
The creation of London Overground took place in phases from 2007 to 2012 as TfL took over segments of railway to create an orbital network around inner London. Since TfL’s takeover, the Overground has reported the highest customer satisfaction levels in the country, rising from around the low 70s to mid 90s since the takeover.
A better model for London
We’ve talked about what makes the London Overground model different on LR before – as long ago as 2011, in fact:
The model TfL opted to take for the operation of their newly acquired Franchise was different from that used by the DfT. In part this was in order to gain the greater control and synchronicity needed for the orbital. It was also, however, an attempt to try and tackle some of the perceived problems with the franchising system mentioned above – the “buck passing and quagmires” that many felt plagued the system.
The [Overground] would be operated as a “Concession” not a Franchise. Network Rail would obviously manage the infrastructure and someone else would operate the services. TfL, however, would set the fares, decide service levels, procure and manage the Rolling Stock and basically take a more “hands-on” approach to daily decision making. The concession would arguably be closer to the way in which the DLR was operated rather than a traditional franchise – not so much a case of setting boundaries and then taking a hands-off approach, as setting ongoing goals and managing their achievement.
This would limit the freedom within which the chosen operator could work, but that operator would get a rather large payoff in return – unlike with existing National Rail franchisees, Tfl would absorb the overwhelming majority of the revenue risk – up to 90% of it. This made the Operator’s books much easier to manage and their profit margins clearer, a worthwhile payoff for the tighter working restrictions.
It’s hard to deny that the result has been a success. One which has demonstrated TfL’s competence and effective management, and provided a poster child for the value of integrating different transport services in a city.
Indeed in 2012, the Mayor published his vision for a more integrated rail network that would offer a consistent standard of customer service. He described the fragmented suburban railway system, which is run by TfL and 10 other train operators, as “ill-suited.”
He contrasted this with the Overground’s achievements in converting neglected rail assets into the Inner London orbital to provide additional connectivity and capacity for London. This success is quantified by a quadrupling of passenger numbers since the TfL take over, as well as the very high customer satisfaction levels. These are largely attributable to ‘soft measures’, such as ensuring a uniform look and feel to the stations, improving security through constant manning of all stations, raising awareness of the ‘multi-modality’ of the network – as well as, naturally, delivering a more frequent and reliable service, with brand new metro –style trains.
The Mayor’s Rail Vision published in 2012 outlined London’s proposal to take over suburban rail in the North East and South East. The campaign for London to take over more of the rail network in London has been partially successful. In June 2013 the Treasury and Department for Transport committed to allowing TfL to run the branches from Liverpool Street to North East London that joined London Overground this weekend.
What it means for passengers
Passengers can expect a number of changes to their journey experience. Some changes have already occurred over the weekend, others will follow in the coming weeks.
After the teething problems this weekend, London Overground is gearing up to provide a more frequent service. As a minimum, London Overground will be running a ‘turn-up-and go’ frequency of at least four trains per hour throughout the week. Station staff this weekend indicated that the ambition is to provide trains up to every 5-6 minutes.
Superficial cleaning at the station has already been happening over the weekend, and within a week all stations are to be deep cleaned to welcome new and existing passengers. All stations will also receive London Overground branding: a uniform colour scheme, which creates consistent design amongst the diverse stations.
The station entrances will also be cleared and designed to create welcoming stations where the passenger flow is not obstructed.
All stations are now staffed during service hours, to offer assistance to customers navigating the network and travelling beyond the station.
Improved passenger security will be provided by CCTV, and by the presence of station and police staff. There will be Help Points at all stations, improved lighting and ticket gates installed to reduce antisocial behaviour.
Although some of the ticket machines and train time displays were out of order on Sunday passengers can expect improved visual and public address systems providing real-time train service information as well as accessible on-the-go information and updates. New posters and network maps put up across the new branches highlight the transfer as well as the new connectivity.
TfL have indicated that there will be no increase in rail fares, with 80% of passengers to benefit from fare reductions of up to 40%. Passengers now also benefit from the different concessionary fares offered by TfL, above and beyond the statutory concession fares.
All income reinvested
Station staff at the rebranded stations praised TfL’s commitment to invest all profits back into the transport network and welcomed the new staff.
Looking to the future
With the takeover of the West Anglia franchise, TfL has the opportunity again to demonstrate their ability to provide passengers with a high quality rail service that is integrated into a wider multi-modal network. They hope to cement their already strong reputation, and strengthen their case to be given control of more of the suburban rail network.
A report authored for TfL by NERA Consulting in 2011 illustrates nicely the scale and ambition of TfL’s vision for the future of London’s railways, and despite failing to win control over the Southeastern franchise debate regarding the Southeastern services continues. The Overground story is, as a result, likely far from over.