The railways will next year finally get back to service levels achieved before the October 2000 Hatfield crash, infrastructure company Network Rail (NR) said today.
By setting itself tougher-than-ordered punctuality targets, NR said a pre-Hatfield level of 86.1 per cent of trains running on time was expected to be achieved by August 2006.
The not-for-profit company said it had reduced delays for which it was responsible by 16 per cent in 2004-05 compared with 2003-04.
Delays are down from 13.7 million minutes to 11.5 million minutes - the latter figure being equivalent of 21 years of delays.
NR has now set itself targets which are tougher than ordered by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). For example, NR hopes to achieve 10.6 million minutes of delays in 2005-06 compared with the ORR target of 11.3 million minutes.
The ORR delay target for 2004-05 had been 12.3 million minutes.
Details of the delay figures were given as NR launched its latest business plan. The company said that it had achieved £420 million of efficiency savings.
NR chairman Ian McAllister said: "Network Rail is raising the bar on train punctuality. We've made substantial improvements in the last year, and now we want to go even further, even faster. That's why we are making the targets even tougher, ensuring passengers should see improvements in punctuality well ahead of schedule."
He went on: "The two million-plus minutes we have taken off delays in the last year is a superb achievement, a testament to the efforts of our 30,000 employees and evidence of a much better working relationship with the train and freight operators.
"We've managed to beat the tough ORR-set targets by taking maintenance in-house, rolling integrated control centres out across the network and continuing our massive programme of rebuilding the railway. These initiatives are delivering real benefits to passengers."
By 2008-09, NR plans to have reduced delays to 8.5 million minutes, compared with the ORR target for that financial year of 9.1 million minutes.
NR also said today that it planned to spend £20.5 billion over the next four years, with 570 miles of new rail to be laid in the next 12 months.
The company plans to reduce the number of broken rails by a further 8 per cent in the next 12 months.
In May, an NR remuneration committee will meet to decide whether NR's top directors get bonuses.
Earlier this month, ORR chief Chris Bolt wrote to the remuneration committee pointing out that NR was in breach of its operating licence in failing to give enough notice of engineering, causing changes to the timetable.
Last Christmas and before the recent Easter holiday, passengers experienced difficulty getting cheaper, booked-in-advance tickets because of a lack of notice of timetable changes.