Local Stations to Miss Out on London Overground Improvements

RMT say program is more about closing ticket offices than modernising services

London Overground services in west and south west London are poised to miss out on a range of improvements and upgrades proposed including the introduction of a night service this December and a fleet of new air-conditioned trains.

In addition the plans have encountered resistance from the rail unions with the RMT saying that the proposals by Transport for London (TfL) and Arriva Rail London (ARL), which operates London Overground, will result in the closure of many of the service’s remaining ticket offices.

A 24 hour night service on London Overground will begin this December with trains running all night on Fridays and Saturdays between New Cross Gate and Dalston Junction, extending to Highbury & Islington in the new year. It is not known at this stage if and when a night services will be introduced to stations such as Acton Central, South Acton, Gunnersbury, Shepherd's Bush or Imperial Wharf. Next year 45 new air-conditioned walk-through trains will also be introduced on the soon-to-be fully electrified Gospel Oak to Barking line, as well as the lines between Liverpool Street and Chingford, Enfield Town and Cheshunt, replacing rolling stock in many cases over thirty years old.

ARL is to begin meeting with its staff and trade unions to discuss a range of initiatives, including making London Overground staff more visible and available at stations, and modernising the process for selling tickets to reflect changes in how people are paying for their travel. They say that they are considering increasing the number of permanent staff they employ and reducing reliance on agencies to cover customer service positions. The proposed new positions would be multifunctional so that staff are skilled to work in different areas of customer service, such as to help vulnerable people on their journeys, with a comprehensive package of training and development provided. All stations will continue to be staffed at all times while trains are running.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said, "RMT is deeply concerned about the proposals which in our view could see the elimination of ticket offices across London Overground. Our experience in the past shows that, despite promises to the contrary, the closure of ticket offices leads to the wholesale destaffing of stations with serious consequences for safety and security.

"These plans have a striking similarity to the Fit For The Future model rolled out on London Underground stations which meant wholesale axing of ticket offices and a net loss in safety critical jobs and which sparked a long running union industrial and political campaign that eventually reversed a ‎sizable chunk of those cuts.

"RMT is also aware that these proposals are being mapped out against the background of massive central Government cuts to the TFL budget and those cuts could shape the eventual package. The Mayor ‎must give us cast iron assurances that will not happen and we are calling for urgent, top level discussions around the proposals."

ARL say they will also be consulting with London Travel Watch, the independent statutory watchdog for transport users in London, and the Department for Transport (DfT) on the emerging plans. The plans are being developed so that there will not be a need for compulsory redundancies. In addition, the number of staff employed in permanent mobile revenue protection and security roles across the London Overground network is planned to be trebled by early 2019.

Jonathan Fox, TfL’s Director of London Rail, said, “The London Overground network has improved enormously over the last decade. We want to continue that trend and make sure that we are continuing to provide a first-class service that meets the needs of today’s customers. Over the years we have seen significant changes to how customers use stations and pay for travel and this exercise will enable ARL to consider how best to respond to these and make sure the Overground retains its position as one of the best train services in the UK.”

Will Rogers, Arriva Rail London’s managing director, said: “As the London Overground network has grown, our staff have been instrumental in adapting to customer trends, new technology and ways of working that benefit customers, communities and employees. There is no doubt that TfL’s vision for the Overground is both strong and ambitious, and so we will work closely with them to achieve a joint goal of meeting the ever-changing needs of our customers and communities. Our programme aims to create a stronger London Overground, with a secure and skilled future for our employees.”

TfL and ARL say they have carefully reviewed the previous Fit for Future Stations programme on London Underground and are ensuring that all lessons learned are incorporated into the proposals. The proposals also take on board recommendations from the London Travel Watch’s review into the London Underground programme published last year.

September 19, 2017

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