Trains still late despite £9bn line upgrade

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The Independent Online

Train punctuality on a key London to Scotland rail line is still well below the national average despite a £9bn upgrade of the route, it was revealed today.

Only 86.4 per cent of services on the West Coast Main Line operated by Virgin Trains ran on time in the period from 28 June to 25 July this year, Network Rail (NR) said today.

This compared with a national trains-on-time average of 92.4 per cent for all lines - an all-time July record.

Also, in the 12-month period ending 25 July 2009, Virgin was only able to run 81.0 per cent of trains on time compared with a national average of 90.9 per cent.

There was some good news for Virgin and NR in that West Coast July 2009 punctuality was better than in July 2008 when only 77.3 per cent of trains ran on time.

The major upgrade of the West Coast line was completed last December but problems have persisted. Earlier this year the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) warned NR about its West Coast performance.

The ORR also expressed disappointment, echoed by passenger groups, politicians and trade unions, when NR top bosses still received six-figure bonuses this year despite the West Coast problems.

NR have agreed an improvement plan with ORR for West Coast but Virgin Trains said today there had been few signs so far of things getting better.

A Virgin Trains spokesman went on: "Most people would have thought that we would be able to run a really good service after a £9bn upgrade but we are still having problems with track and signalling and overhead lines.

"NR has put in a series of actions supposed to dramatically improve things and we are co-operating fully with them. But the improvements have not happened yet."

NR operations and customer service director Robin Gisby said: "Train punctuality is being maintained at historically high levels and our extra investment targeted at improving performance on the West Coast main line is seeing early signs of success.

"Our focus remains on driving up performance for Virgin and the other operators on the West Coast."