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great northern metro mapA minister in the Department for Transport (DfT) has given the go-ahead for Transport for London (TfL) to continue developing proposals for the devolution to TfL of "Great Northern Inner Suburban" rail services. This term refers to the slow and semi-fast services between Moorgate/​Kings Cross and Hertford North/​Stevenage/​Welwyn Garden City currently operated by Govia Thameslink Railway and badged as Great Northern Metro.

In a letter sent last week to deputy mayor Heidi Alexander, the minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, writes that DfT officials have reviewed the strategic outline business case for devolution and advised him of the potential benefits and risks. Though these are "finely balanced", he believes that "there is sufficient justification to explore the future of these services in more detail". He goes on to list key points which TfL will need to address when developing an outline business case for the transfer, including interaction with other operators using the same tracks and ways in which TfL could be accountable to passengers using stations outside of the GLA boundaries. He refers to a project plan developed jointly by TfL to implement the transfer before September 2022, but cautions against committing to a firm date at this stage.

Text of letter from Minister of State for Transport to Deputy Mayor of London for Transport

Heidi Alexander
Deputy Mayor, Transport, and Deputy Chair TfL
By email

19 June 2020

Dear Heidi

Great Northern Inners

I am writing with regards to the future of the Great Northern Inner suburban services which we discussed when we met on 27 January.

As you know Transport for London (TfL) have submitted a Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) for the devolution of these services. This has now been reviewed by my officials, and I have been advised of the potential benefits of devolution and the challenges which would need to be overcome to deliver a successful transfer to TfL.

I must stress that the potential benefits and risks are finely balanced and there is significant uncertainty surrounding some of the key underlying assumptions. That said l believe there is sufficient justification to explore the future of these services in more detail, and I have asked my officials to support TfL in developing this proposal further.

As you know from our recent meeting, I am absolutely committed to creating a railway that works for passengers. This further work must robustly consider the extent to which the option presented in the SOBC is in the best interests of all passengers and the tax-payer.

I understand officials from both TfL and my own Department have worked together collaboratively over recent months to consider the future of the Great Northern Inners. This close working highlights our collective ambition to improve services for passengers and I would be grateful if TfL could continue to work in the same collaborative spirit to ensure we develop a robust, comprehensive and compelling Outline Business Case.

Outline Business Case

This should be developed in accordance with the Department's standard principles and processes, and my officials will of course be available to support you.

I would like to draw your attention to some key areas which should be covered in more detail than was considered in the Strategic Outline Business Case. It will be important to incorporate within the Outline Business Case the full consideration of options, and the rationale that leads to a particular option being taken forward.

Strategic Benefits and Risks

Once the preferred option is identified, the Outline Business Case should clearly articulate the extent to which this proposal ts compatible with the anticipated industry reforms. It should also demonstrate why the preferred option best delivers the expected benefits A clear assessment of the potential risks should be set out along with appropriate mitigation measures where appropriate.

Out-boundary safeguards

Devolution of the Great Northern Inners would result in some stations outside the GLA boundary being served by TfL services. These stations are: Potters Bar, Brookmans Park, Welham Green, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Cuffley, Bayford, Hertford North, Watton-at-Stone, and Stevenage. The Outline Business Case should clearly set out the safeguards TfL shall establish to ensure accountability to passengers travelling to/from these stations.


As you know, the Great Northern Inners interact with other operators on critical infrastructure including an important section of the East Coast Main Line. The services are operated by a dedicated fleet of new-build trains which are currently maintained and stabled at Hornsey Depot alongside trains which operate Thameslink, Gatwick Express and other Great Northern services. The Outline Business Case should detail the extent to which the devolution of services supports strategic decision making and delivers operational simplicity that does not impact on the performance of other services.

Timing of Transfer

I note that TfL and DfT officals have developed a project plan which could potentially deliver a transfer before September 2022. Before any date of transfer is determined I would like to be assured that we can achieve all we need to in terms of deliverability and that there would be no detrimental impact on passangers in terms of service et. Thus I propose that DfT and TfL officials vork together lo identify a realistic and deliverable transfer date that worka for both TfL and the Department for Transport before committing to a firm date.


I understand the SOBC assumed that any transfer would be cost-neutral for the Department compared to a base case of continued Departmental specification. Given the Department is now providing emergency funding to TfL, I ask that the Outline Business Case sets out how this would work in practice including a consideration of the impact of the pandemic, and how the Department and TfL can werk together to control cost. Any transfer must not threaten TfL's ability to deliver other priorities.

Any transfer of services will ultimately reiquire approval from HM Treasury.

Wider implications for rail services within London

The decision to explore the future of the Great Northem Inner services further does not necessarily imply that other rail operations that TfL have identified as being of interest would be devolved in future. Any such proposals would be considered on their merits.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Heaton-Harris MP
Minister of State for Transport


Source: Tweet by Joanne McCartney AM

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