Trains less punctual than before Hatfield

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The Independent Online

Despite a massive increase in investment from taxpayers, trains are still not as punctual as they were before the Hatfield crash in 2000, according to figures released yesterday.

Despite a massive increase in investment from taxpayers, trains are still not as punctual as they were before the Hatfield crash in 2000, according to figures released yesterday.

A total of 83.1 per cent of services ran on time in the three months to March, compared with 89.1 per cent in the comparable period before the accident.

The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) also released provisional figures showing that £5bn is being invested in Britain's railways - an increase of 24 per cent on last year.

The figure will reinforce ministers' determination to introduce reforms to the industry, due to be revealed in a White Paper next month, which will include the abolition of the SRA and proposals to streamline the chain of command. The Treasury is known to be particularly angry that huge increases in subsidies have not resulted in better services.

However, Richard Bowker, the chairman of the authority, insisted that passengers should feel "reassured" by the record levels of investment. He argued that in January to March 2003, only 80.5 per cent of services ran on time, some 2.6 percentage points worse than the latest figures. The Virgin CrossCountry network, which provides services between Cornwall and north-east Scotland, enjoyed a 12 per cent improvement in punctuality.

However, four companies failed to improve performance. Punctuality at c2c, which runs services between London, Tilbury and Southend, deteriorated by 3.4 per cent; Silverlink, operating between the capital and the Midlands, was 2.3 per cent worse; First North Western was down 3.4 per cent; and local services in Anglia were 0.9 per cent less punctual.

Time-keeping on main lines improved only 0.7 per cent on last year.

Apart from the Isle of Wight Island Line, the best-performing company in January to March 2004 was Merseyrail, with 94.5 per cent of trains on time. Among the other companies which showed improvements in punctuality in January-March were Midland Mainline, up 11.3 per cent; First Great Western, 7.8 per cent; and Thames Trains, 6.3 per cent.

Long distance routes are judged to be "on time" if they turn up within 10 minutes of their scheduled time. For regional and commuter routes the measure is within five minutes.

Complaints per 100,000 journeys decreased by a massive 43 per cent. Some 73 per cent of passengers thought their journey was either satisfactory or good in spring 2004 - an improvement of 1 per cent on autumn 2003.

But only 42 per cent of passengers said they were getting value for money.The highest levels of overall passenger satisfaction were recorded by Gatwick Express (90 per cent), Island Line (87 per cent), Chiltern Railways (87 per cent) and Merseyrail (87 per cent).

The lowest satisfaction figure, of 63 per cent, was recorded in the South Eastern area, where the SRA took over control after stripping the private operator Connex of the franchise. The number of trains running on time under the SRA's control dropped from 82.4 per cent to 79.7.

Mr Bowker said: "Industry intervention, including SRA-led timetable changes in May and September last year, is continuing to deliver improvements.

"The industry must now sustain and accelerate this progress to achieve even higher performances for passenger and freight customers."

Brian Donohoe, a Labour member of the House of Commons Transport Committee expressed alarm that £5bn of public money was being spent on the railways.

He said: "Today's figures show that public spending on our railways is now at a phenomenal level, and I simply do not believe that either the fare-paying passengers or the taxpayers are receiving good value for money."

The Shadow transport secretary Tim Yeo said that despite the SRA's "desperate" claims that punctuality had got better, the figures showed that punctuality was worse than in 1997.

"Rather than making real improvements to services, the SRA must be the only people who think that the way to do that is to make journeys slower."

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