Privatisation makes trains 'twice as likely to be late'

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Trains are twice as likely to be delayed on some lines since the railway system was broken up in readiness for privatisation.

An internal Railtrack document leaked to Labour shows that since one state company became 25 different "service groups", punctuality in all but seven has fallen. Trains are also more likely to be cancelled, according to the survey.

The worst culprit is the West Coast Main Line (WCML) from London Euston to Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. In 1994/95, before the system was handed over to Railtrack, only one train in 10 was more than 10 minutes late arriving at its destination. In 1995/96, that figure doubled to almost one in five.

Figures for the East Coast Main Line from London King's Cross to Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh have not deteriorated quite so badly, but even on this showpiece route only 86 per cent of trains arrived on time, compared with 90 per cent the previous year.

Clare Short, shadow transport secretary, said: "These figures provide hard evidence that selling our rail network is deeply damaging to the industry. This is a damning indictment of a government that has gone off the rails. Everyone who is serious about the railways knew that fragmentation and privatisation would lead to a worse service at greater cost to the taxpayer. Almost every part of the system is suffering from delays, missed connections and the poor condition of track and signalling.

"This revelation is likely to dent severely investors' confidence in the sale of Railtrack, who have shown themselves to be staggeringly inept at running Britain's rail network."

Punctuality has suffered worst on the Midlands, Lancashire and Scottish sections of WCML, but even the elite, privatised Great Western had to report more late trains. Cumbria, which has few trains, was the most punctual. Slight improvements in timekeeping were most noticeable in Yorkshire, amounting to around one per cent.

Cancellations are also up, though the record here is not as bad as that on punctuality. Again, West Coast Main Line is the worst offender, with more than one in every 100 trains cancelled.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "These figures are proof, if ever proof were needed, that the privatisation of our railways has been at the expense of the travelling public. The customer is now second to the profit motive."

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