State-run trains outperform private sector

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The Independent Online

More than one in six trains are running late, with punctuality still below the levels achieved before the Hatfield rail crash four years ago.

More than one in six trains are running late, with punctuality still below the levels achieved before the Hatfield rail crash four years ago.

Despite a gradual overall improvement in performance, one in four services on some routes is still arriving late, according to official figures released yesterday.

Most embarrassing for the Government, however, is the performance of the state-run South Eastern Trains (SET) franchise, which ministers are determined to re-privatise in the new year. The routes, which run mainly from Kent into London and were taken over by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) from the French group Connex in 2003, have recorded above-average improvements in punctuality for London commuter operators in two successive quarters.

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT rail union, yesterday said it would be "absolute lunacy" to sell it off to the private sector. Punctuality currently stands at 85.1 per cent, up from 79.6 per cent in the same period last year.

Data published by the Strategic Rail Authority showed that nationally 83.3 per cent of trains ran on time in the three months to September, compared with 89.8 per cent in July to September 1999 and 86.6 per cent for the same period a year later - just before the Hatfield crash. But this year's figure is a 2.5 percentage point improvement over the same period last year.

The company with the worst record this summer was Virgin West Coast with a punctuality figure of 71.9 per cent, although this was an improvement on the 65.3 per cent achieved in the same period last year. Virgin had to contend with engineering works associated with a major line upgrade.

In all, 18 train companies showed an improvement in performance between July and September, compared with the same period in 2003, with 11 companies improving by at least five percentage points. Four companies did worse in the survey period than in the previous year, while the performance of two others remained practically unchanged.

The SRA's customer survey showed satisfaction ratings at their best since spring 2000 with 76 per cent of passengers very or fairly satisfied with their journey in autumn 2004 compared to 73 per cent in autumn 2003.

Stewart Francis, the chairman of the Rail Passengers Council, said passengers would welcome better punctuality. But he added: "With the task of implementing the recently introduced winter timetable and fare rises in January, the challenge is now for the industry to improve the service it offers. Passengers want trains to run on time, but they also want value for money."

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