The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has issued a warning that an entire Tube line could close if the Government does not grant TfL the emergency and long-term funding it needs to maintain the capital’s transport services.

Speaking earlier today at the Centre for London conference, he repeated a warning that has been circulating for the past week.

The Mayor said “I agree with the Government and Mayors across the country when they say other regions should have ‘London-style’ transport services. But the irony is that a failure to provide enough operational and capital funding for TfL means that it won’t be long before London itself will no longer have ‘London-style’ transport services.”

However, at the moment there’s no information as to which tube line could close, or what the financial implications would be.

If a line needs to close, in order for that to lead to savings, with the exception of the Waterloo & City line, closing a stand-alone line could only deliver savings if the drivers are also laid-off, as it would take a long time to retrain them to work on other lines. That would then also mean it would take ages to reopen a line, assuming the unions accepted that in the first place.

Speculating then – it’s possible that if a line were to be closed, it would be one of the sub-surface lines where there are overlaps with other lines to allow staff to be redeployed while delivering savings in lower running costs due to the trains not in use. That could see, for example, the Circle line closed, which would be a headline-grabbing decision while also being vastly less damaging to London than for example, closing the Northern line.

The savings from closing, for example, the Circle line would be less than from closing another line, but it would also be much easier to carry out.

The current funding deal that keeps TfL running is due to expire on 11th December 2021. TfL is currently seeking £500m in operational support through to the end of the financial year 2021/22, and around £1.2bn will be needed for the financial year 2022/23.

TfL is unusual compared to other major city public transport networks in being dependent on revenue from ticket sales for 72 per cent of its income, which is unusually high by international standards.

Although there is an argument that increased working from home has reduced the long term passenger numbers on London’s public transport, that reduction is likely to be concentrated in the higher earning office workers. If TfL is left to fund the majority of its services from fares as it currently has to, that cost burden will fall more heavily on those who can’t work from home, and those people typically tend to be at the lower end of the pay scale.

A TfL that remains so heavily dependent on fares income would therefore increase inequality in London by forcing the lower paid to pay more to get to work.

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24 comments
  1. Brian Butterworth says:

    I guess you could “wish” the District Line away… just hand Upminster to Barking to the H&C Line and make Wimbledon to Gloucester Road the “Circle Line” and stop the Pic lines where you can between Acton Town and Earl’s Court!

    I guess the Bakerloo could be changed in the north to more Overground services (and a Queens Park to Paddington bus service?) and put in Walking Routes for Regent’s Park and Lambeth North?

    This game is entertaining!

    • Andy T says:

      How about making Metropolitan Line Aldgate to Watford and Uxbridge only? Or cutting Woodford to Hainault?

      Perhaps hit areas outside London, or Conservative strongholds?

      Hours of fun to be had I have to agree 😁

    • Colin Newman says:

      The sub surface lines are a separate network. Giving part of the District to the H&C would achieve nothing except the cost of changing publicity, timetables, etc. To save money they have to reduce train miles – shorten journeys and/or cut out some journeys altogether.

    • Brian Butterworth says:

      Andy T: I thought the “game” was “cut an entire line”!

    • Brian Butterworth says:

      Colin Newman: Of course! But this is the “game” of “we might have to cut an entire line”.

      Of course it would achieve nothing, it doesn’t have to, it’s a bargaining position.

  2. Jon says:

    Speculating on how this could be done for the minimum of damage/disruption seems a little paradoxical. Isn’t the Mayor’s whole purpose here to threaten something so dire it forces the government to provide more funding? If so, why not threaten to close the Jubilee line? Proposing to close a line that serves Westminster and is named for the Queen would seem like the best way to put the screws to the government.

  3. Uche Mick Chinonso says:

    I hear the Bakerloo line is more likely to be closed because,
    1. The trains are old and rattly
    2. It runs alongside the Northern, Jubilee, Circle, District, H&C lines, and the Overground. So this line is destined for the chop unlike the Jubilee Line.

  4. Lionel Ward says:

    That makes some sense looking at the map. Ultimately they’d look at the expected impact on the balance sheet. Seems a lot of bakerloo line journeys as destinations can be reach with other lines

    Still would be a shock to have it close

  5. Melvyn says:

    Given how the Bakerloo Line is operated with the equivalent of TVs using valves and is covered by the Overground north of Queens Park it’s the most likely to be closed. However, with work at Euston Station for HS2 and station rebuilding it might not be possible to guarantee a service long term !

    One alternative would be to cut back the Metropolitan line from Uxbridge along with cuts in bus services in Ruislip and Uxbridge and tell anyone who complains to see their MP !

    Severing the circle line would make many journeys difficult although the extra wide platform at Whitechapel Station could act as an interchange….

    It’s worth remembering that during the lockdown TFL upgrades almost ground a halt whereas Government controlled Network Rail investment was boosted to take advantage of the lack of passengers !

  6. Peter G says:

    Closing the circle line would make a big headline. I was toying with the idea of cutting off the met line at Baker Street, just terminate everything there. If you did that and closed the Circle, you could shut Aldgate station…

    Or close the circle but extend the met service beyond Aldgate to overlap the District to make up for the circle being closed. Maybe not such large savings but less impact on service.

    Alternatively, close the H&C, now the Circle goes out to Hammersmith.

    Some might depend on journey data – how many people go through on the H&C where it would be split into Circle and District? I don’t know, but I bet TfL can get a really good idea.

    • Nick says:

      Where would the Metropolitan line terminate if not Aldgate? Kensington Olympia hasn’t got the capacity and the high number of District Line services around Earl’s Court are the responsibility is the reason for such limited service.

      I suggest closing the Elizabeth Line and give it to Grest Western railway or Greater Anglia.

  7. Nick says:

    Fully commercialise bus routes like the do outside London and put the London Overground back to the National Rail network.

    They way there will be little or no funding for buses or Overground and money could be used for Londo Underground. Income from the Underground funds bus services, a service that is creating a loss and children travelling free isn’t helping either.

  8. NG says:

    Cut off the Met line to Uxbridge & shorten the Picc. to Rayners Lane. After all, who is the MP for Uxbridge?
    Come to that, shut the entire Met North of Baker Street, for similar reasons,

  9. Colin Newman says:

    Closing Aldgate Station is a different matter from closing that part of the Circle line. I guess the bay roads at Plaistow, Barking and Dagenham East could take up the slack.

  10. Jake M says:

    Running a rerouted Metropolitan service from Uxbridge – Liverpool Street to West Ham and/or Plaistow could replace H&C services east of Liverpool Street, leaving the existing Circle services to serve Aldgate etc.

  11. Terry Bishop says:

    Cut the Wimbledon and Edgware Road and also Olympia branch on the District line. Interchange for Edgware Road can be made at Gloucester Road by Circle line. West Kensington station is close enough to Olympia via North End Road. London Overground and Southern connections can be made at West Brompton.

  12. Stacey Barton says:

    Although fantasy line closures are nearly as enjoyable as fantasy line openings, the Mayor has the Straight Flush here. De-Piffle isn’t going to be able to stomach tube line closures on his watch, and Khan knows it.

  13. Aled says:

    Let’s be real, this is just political posturing to ensure they get the govt handouts “oh we couldn’t possibly save money, we’d have to shut a line. We couldn’t possibly find savings elsewhere. We need to pretend the only option is to close a line, because the public will hate that”

  14. Robert Harris says:

    A transparent and foolish threat from a Mayor who is way, way out of his depth.

  15. Chris Rogers says:

    Meanwhile TfL still have about 400 staff being paid over £100,000

  16. Lizebeth says:

    Lots of enjoyable speculation, but I repeat a comment from an earlier news story: London has to keep moving, or the entire Country will feel the pain. I cannot understand how the PM has the audacity to refuse TFL funding — yes, perhaps some working for it are overpaid, but certainly fewer than overpaid MPs!— when it’s clear that Fees will never again pay for Service in the ongoing
    Age of Covid. This should actually never have been the basis for running London’s transport system in the first place.

    If I have to vote on a line closure, I agree on Bakerloo (ancient cars and Stations, which could be turned into heritage sites?!), and Elizabeth Line (too new and costly; give it to a rail company to run).

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