Nearly one in three trains across Britain are late and delays on some routes affect more than half of journeys, according stringent new punctuality figures.
The statistics from National Rail, which record a train as running late if it arrives any more than 59 seconds behind schedule, show that Virgin Trains only managed to ensure 47 per cent of its services on the West Coast Mainline arrived on time.
According to the “right-time” measurements, the only worse performance was the CrossCountry franchise run by Arriva, which includes Britain’s longest rail route from Aberdeen to Penzance. Services on the network achieved a punctuality rate of just 45 per cent.
The “real” punctuality figures were published following complaints that rail operators were able to massage their ratings under the main performance measure which allows a train to be classified as “on time” even if it is up to 10 minutes late. Under this more lenient system, known as the public performance measure or PPM, some 91 per cent of trains were deemed to be running on time in the 12 months ending on 17 August. The system classifies a service as late only if a long-distance journey has a delay of more than 10 minutes and a short-distance train is more than five minutes late.
When operators are measured against the “right-time” criteria, punctuality across all trains nationally falls to 68 per cent in the year to this month with long-distance services achieving a performance of just 53.2 per cent.
The best performers were Chiltern Railways with 87.5 per cent and London Overground with 86.2 per cent.
National Rail, which is in charge of rail infrastructure, has been set a minimum punctuality target for the first time. Under the target set by the Office of Rail Regulation, the infrastructure company must raise punctuality under the PPM to 92.6 per cent by March or face a fine of £1.5m for every 0.1 per cent it falls short.
Virgin Rail is also suing NR in an effort to force the company to speed up infrastructure improvements.
A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies defended rail operators. “According to the Government’s own measure, train punctuality is better now than it was 15 years ago with nine out of 10 trains arriving as planned,” he said.