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Sadiq Khan has announced a plan to end Southern Rail commuter hell

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Dave Fawbert
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Things truly reached a nadir on Southern Rail services this week, with reports that passengers, frustrated with years of terrible service and pushed to their limit by a three-day strike and overrunning engineering work, had started punching each other.

Clearly, something needs to be done - and London mayor Sadiq Khan believes that he has the answer.

Plans have been submitted to the government which call for suburban rail services - including Southern - to revert to the control of Transport for London (TfL).

The proposals suggest that TfL would run services from London Bridge, Cannon Street, Charing Cross, Moorgate, Victoria and Waterloo in a more frequent, metro-style service, with refurbished stations, more ticket gates, and full staffing levels, using the experience gained from their subsuming of the Overground network into the tube system.

Khan said, “For too long, London’s rail commuters have been getting a bad service, with nightmare delays, cancellations and overcrowding increasingly the norm on our suburban rail routes. Our plans will not only use TfL’s skills and expertise to improve the daily commute for millions of Londoners, but act as a catalyst for new jobs and homes in outer London."

He continued, “Devolution, along with greater collaboration with our public and private sector partners and local communities, will help us deliver a properly integrated transport network across London. Rail passengers will finally get the same standard of service and reliability they get on the tube. We’ve set out our compelling case to the government – there really is now no excuse for not pressing ahead with changes that will substantially improve the lives of Londoners.”

Mike Brown, London's transport commissioner, summed up the idea behind the proposal, saying “London Overground has become one of the most popular and punctual railways anywhere in the country. We want to bring this level of service to the wider London rail network – with seamless interchanges, a single fares structure and more frequent, reliable trains.”

Despite the huge success of the London Overground - passenger numbers have risen 400% since 2007, with more frequent services and new trains - it is about to taken over by Arriva, who won a £1.5bn contract in March to operate it for the next seven and a half years; a baffling development given its dramatic improvement in the last decade.

London overground - a huge success story

Khan's proposal, of course, feeds into the wider debate over the renationalisation of Britain's railways, with overwhelming public support for the idea and all the evidence suggesting that it would be more efficient, cheaper and provide a better service.

Similarly to the Overground, when the East Coast main line was in public hands between 2009 and 2015 - after two private operators failed to meet their financial commitments - it was an enormous success, returning £1bn to the taxpayer in premiums, plus millions in profit, while enjoying record passenger satisfaction. Yet this, too, was reprivatised, with Virgin Trains East Coast taking over the line last year.

So what will the government do this time? Khan's proposal - effectively nationalising London's suburban rail lines - makes complete sense, and would almost certainly be successful, thus ending the nightmare of Southern's tenure. Yet it would also give further ammunition to those seeking to renationalise the wider rail network, which goes against the Conservatives' free market dogma. They have no good reason not to try it, yet its success would undermine any argument left to keep the railways in private hands.

Over to you Theresa...

(Images: Getty/Rex)

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Dave Fawbert

ShortList.com staff writer Dave’s primary passions are pop, prose, punning and power ballads (and alliteration). A lower division football enthusiast and long-suffering cricket fan, he is one of only 110 people followed on Twitter by Chas Hodges from Chas ‘n’ Dave. Follow Dave on Twitter like Chas: @davefawbert

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