Auditor rejects train punctuality figures

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The Independent Online
FIGURES produced by a British Rail company on the reliability and punctuality of train services are so inaccurate they have been rejected by the auditor. The Passenger's Charter figures are used to calculate refunds to season ticket holders who suffer poor service.

A confidential report shows that the 1993/4 figures for South West Trains, the operating company which runs all the trains out of London's Waterloo station and is used by 300,000 passengers per day, contain 'gross discrepancies'.

The document reveals that trains were only counted as late if they arrived five and a half minutes after the published time, rather than five minutes as required by the Charter.

The Passenger's Charter uses targets set by the Government to monitor performance of all 25 train operating companies which are currently run as part of BR but which are due to be privatised over the next few years.

Michael Patterson, secretary of the railway watchdog, CRUCC, said: ''I am very concerned about this. The train companies were warned about discrepancies that arose in previous audits and they have had plenty of time to put them right.' Since the figures are used to determine whether season ticket holders can claim refunds, he said, commuters may have been cheated out of a discount.

Sara Hilditch, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Probability and Statistics which audits all the Passenger's Charter figures, wrote in the report's summary: 'Gross discrepancies were found in the reliability figures on the basis of the information provided which could not be explained.'

She found that many trains had not been included in the Passenger's Charter figures and some trains were shown as appearing twice, or only appearing as a departure but not as an arrival. Yet the figures were adjusted to ensure that the targets set for South West Trains, which is divided into two sections - South Western and Solent & Wessex - were all easily met.

The report says that in January, punctuality for Solent & Wessex for peak hour trains was 84.5 per cent, yet the figure quoted by South West Trains was 85.7 per cent, just close enough to the target to avoid giving refunds to season ticket holders.

South West Trains is one of the six train operating companies earmarked for early privatisation by the Government with the hope that it will be franchised out to the private sector by April 1996.

Jane Lee, spokeswoman for South West Trains, said: 'There was a software problem which meant the monitoring system often broke down and we did not have a manual system as a back up. We do now.

'We are confident, however, that our figures in reality were better than those we published. In the past three months, since we have had a back up system, we have consistently met all targets, even though they are now higher than last year.'