Silverlink’s Chinese Takeover

Watchdog welcomes operators but RMT threatens strike over 'privatisation'

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Key parts of London's rail and tube network, including the Silverlink Metro which stops at Gunnersbury, South Acton and Acton Central Stations, are to be taken over by a Chinese rail firm in November.

The firm, MTR - based in Hong Kong has a 99 per cent punctuality record and operates the Hong Kong Metro system. Built 27 years ago, the system was originally run in part by British engineers, many with experience of British Rail and London Underground.

MTR has apparently been very keen to gain a foothold in running one of Europe's rail networks and was particularly keen on the British market. It has made unsuccessful bids for Southeastern, South West Trains and GNER franchises.

Brian Cooke, Chair of London TravelWatch said of the deal: "This is good news for London." He continued: "MTR operates one of the best metros in the world, so we hope they can bring those skills and experience to running London Overground – a vital rail route around the capital.”

Mr Cooke added: “This is also an important move towards an integrated transport system in the capital. Oyster pay-as-you-go will be accepted on all routes, and readers will be provided at all stations and fares and ticketing services will also be combined with existing TfL arrangements. We really hope that this new concession will ensure improved services, improved trains and improved stations – something passengers both want and deserve.”

Ken Livingstone claims the deal will create a new addition to the Tube map and hailed it as a "new rail artery" with "far-reaching improvements. By joining together the North and East London railways ahead of the 2012 games we will create a new rail artery around the city, serving 20 London boroughs."

The plan is that a total of £1.4 billion will be spent on new trains and refurbished stations. Mr Livingstone continued: "London Overground services will create 400 more jobs over the next three years and all those currently employed on the East London line will be offered new roles with London Underground. This contract paves the way for radical revitalisation of London's rail services, which have suffered from years of neglect and under-investment. It will provide passengers with the levels of staffing, safety and security and customer service they deserve."

The North London Railway includes the North London line (Richmond to Stratford) the Euston to Watford Junction local line; the West London line (Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction via Kensington Olympia) and the Gospel Oak to Barking line.

Under the plans, 11 mainline stations will come under London Underground control. They include Queen's Park to Harrow & Wealdstone on the Bakerloo line (excluding Willesden Junction) and Kew Gardens and Gunnersbury on the District line. Also included are current Silverlink platforms at Blackhorse Road, Highbury & Islington and West Brompton stations.

The move was greeted with fury by the RMT, largest of the rail unions, which condemned the switch of the East London line from Tube to mainline operation as “privatisation”. It pledged to fight the take-over “all the way” including strike action.

A Transport for London spokesman insisted: "This is not renationalisation nor privatisation. It is a completely new way of running the railway.
The franchise has been awarded by the public, it will be controlled by the public and it will be run for the public."

June 22, 2007