East London Line briefing

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 01/11/2006 - 06:00.

Produced by RMT for journalists, October 2006

The East London Line, used by 10.4 million passengers a year, is part of the London Underground network. The line currently runs between Whitechapel to New Cross and New Cross Gate.

In December 2007 the line will close in order that Phase 1 of the East London Line Extension project can be completed. The line will extend north into Hackney and south to West Croydon, and is due to re-open in 2010.

The unions welcome the important role that the extension will play in creating a world-class transport infrastructure in preparation for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, but we strongly believe that the needs of London will be better served by the line remaining in the public sector.

However, the body responsible for the East London Line Extension project - Transport for London (TfL) - proposes that the Line will no longer be operated by the publicly owned London Underground Limited but will instead be privatised to become part of the North London Railway (NLR) concession.

The concession will be comprised of the current Silverlink Metro services: the North London, Gospel Oak to Barking Line, the West London Line and the Euston to Watford Junction local services.

A short list of bidders has been drawn up and issued with Invitations to Tender - National Express, Govia, MTR Laing and NedRail. So far no public consultation on the privatisation plans has taken place. Additionally the Invitations to Tender are not in the public domain and bidders have been directed not to divulge what thay are being asked to bid for in terms of service and staff levels. Rail unions RMT and TSSA have complained to London Rail over the absence of consultation over the plan and the lack of transparency surrounding the process.

TfL's partial justification for the privatisation is that it wishes to link the East London Line with the current Silverlink Metro services that come under TfL control from November 2007. The whole package will be led by the TfL-controlled London Rail. However there is no physical, technical or legal reason why this cannot be done by retaining the East London Line within London Underground control.

TfL have also attempted to give the impression that the line was always to be franchised out to the private sector, but this is simply not the case. The decision to make the Passenger Service Operator a private-sector company was made only in April this year. Indeed, the are ample internal documents that show clearly that senior LUL managers were hoping that the line's operations would remain within LUL and was still in the running to be PSO as recently as March.

TfL also says that their proposal is not really privatisation, given that the infrastructure would be owned by TfL and that specification of service levels, fares, staffing etc would also remain with TfL. However, the services will be operated by a private-sector franchisee whose main aim will be to make a profit, and the operational staff will be employed by that private operator - a situation similar to the private train-operating companies, who are also subject to franchise specification and who also do not own rolling stock or infrastructure.

There is real and strong disagreement with the Mayor's proposals. Opposition to the privatisation of rail services is fully supported opinion polls and TUC and Labour Party policy. In September 2006 the TUC Congress passsed a motion opposing the privatisation of the East London Line, and the most recent opinion poll, conducted by IPSOS Mori in August 2006, showed that 74 per cent wanted the ELL operated by the public sector.

A number of London MPs have already signed Early Day Motion 2398 supporting the campaign against privatisation. Privately, senior London Underground managers are also opposed to proposals.

Private train operators have been a disaster for Britain's railways. While subsidy and profits have increased, services remain worse than those provided under public ownership. This mistake should not be repeated with the East London Line. We want all public subsidy and fare-box revenue spent on improvements to train services, not siphoned out of the network as profit for greedy train operators.

The Public Private Partnership on the London Underground has already created a fragmented network with frequent service disruptions caused by late running engineering works. It also sees around £2 million a week taken out of the network as 'profit' by underperforming Any moves to privatise the East London Line will exacerbate that fragmentation.

There may be a view that this is a one-off privatisation of Underground passenger operations. However the proposals could be the thin edge of the wedge. If the East London Line is privatised it would inevitably become easier to argue that privatisation of tube passenger services could be extended to other lines.