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Return of rail devolution? Don't hold your breath

Tom Edwards
Transport correspondent, London
@BBCTomEdwardson Twitter

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image copyrightPA
image captionThe DfT will work with TfL to explore options for transferring selected suburban services

If the party poppers were being let off at Transport for London (TfL) towers, they kept them pretty quiet.

Hidden away in the new Department for Transport (DfT) rail strategy is a line that has given the rail devolutionists a glimmer of hope that the dream is not dead.

The line is: "The Department will work with TfL to explore options for transferring selected services such as the West London line to TfL."

Every mayor so far has wanted more control over suburban rail lines and TfL and Sadiq Khan also wants to expand the empire.

image copyrightReuters
image captionWill passengers benefit?

Until Mr Khan, all of them have achieved that and there have been some big successes including changing the dreadful Silverlink to the Overground. West Anglia is now also TfL Rail.

All of them had considerable investment from TfL.

The reservations then were that achieving a better service for the London part of the line would only be achieved to the detriment of the commuters of Kent.

image captionSadiq Khan has called for TfL to takeover suburban train services in London

Those concerns have not gone away and I'm told devolution will only happen if there is a clear benefit to passengers.

So if it happens, more control over the West London Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction line will be welcomed.

I don't think anyone at Transport for London thinks this is the first step in a huge transfer of lines to them.

TfL actually already operates the Overground on that line anyway, so at best you may get a more frequent service.

Fares freeze

Another sticking point that has been mentioned to me is the effect the TfL fares freeze is having on its finances.

Overland rail fares will go up by inflation at 3.6%, while TfL fares are held at 0%.

If TfL is undergoing huge cuts to deliver the fares freeze there are doubts whether it could invest significant sums in any franchise it took over.

It shows all decisions between DfT and TfL must be seen through that prism.

There is now a political and financial incompatibility, that makes more significant rail devolution difficult.

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