Platform 6 at Brighton’s magnificent rail terminus is the starting place for a daily commuting gamble.
Pity the poor commuter, paying £4,068 for an annual season ticket. For long-suffering travellers on the 7.29am from the Sussex coast to London Victoria, the one certainty is that the train will be late. The only variable: by how much.
Network Rail’s punctuality figures for the year to 6 December 2014 show this service was late every day - and demonstrates just how stretched is the rail infrastructure bequeathed by the Victorians.
The line was originally opened in 1841, but the 7.29’s rolling stock demonstrates the uncomfortable compromises that 21st-century passengers must live with. Instead of the regular Southern train, it is branded Gatwick Express and some seats have been surrendered to provide more space for baggage.
Judging from yesterday’s performance, problems can begin soon after leaving Brighton. It arrived two minutes late at the leafy halt of Hassocks, but recovered a minute by the next stop, Wivelsfield. The train departed the busy commuter hub of Haywards Heath only one minute late, but then got entangled with trains joining from the Arun Valley line and the peak-hour congestion at Gatwick Airport - which a £50m improvement project was supposed to address - to arrive four minutes late.
At Britain’s second-busiest airport, this train is designated to become part of the pattern of four-an-hour non-stop trains to London for which airline passengers pay a premium one-way fare of £19.90. Carrying plenty of baggage, weary long-haul travellers from Barbados and Dubai have only two minutes to board the late-running train, which is by now delaying services further down the track.
The schedulers intend it to mesh with a carefully choreographed schedule to run non-stop through the tangle of tracks at East Croydon. But delays picked up en route mean that, at the time passengers are due to be stepping from the train at London Victoria, they are more likely to be stuck down the line at Europe’s busiest station, Clapham Junction.
Yesterday’s train packed full of unlucky commuters and international air passengers finally arrived, appropriately, at Platform 13 about six minutes late.
Travel chaos around the UK
Travel chaos around the UK
1/6 Travel chaos
Travelers are locked out of Finsbury Park station, London, where they were directed to go as trains in and out of King's Cross have been cancelled
2/6 Travel chaos
Passengers wait at King's Cross, London, as trains in and out of the station have been cancelled
3/6 Travel chaos
Railway workers on the tracks outside King's Cross, London, as trains in and out of the station have been cancelled because of overrunning Network Rail engineering works
4/6 Travel chaos
Travellers are locked out of Finsbury Park station, London, where they were directed to go as trains in and out of King's Cross have been cancelled
5/6 Travel chaos
Travellers are locked out of Finsbury Park station, London
6/6 Travel chaos
People wait outside Finsbury Park station, London
The 7.29am is scheduled to average an unambitious 48mph on a line with a top speed of 100mph. Any commuter who sets their alarm early to get the train before, or sleeps in and catches the one after, is unlikely to impress their boss with punctuality. The 7.14am from Brighton to London got in on time only once a fortnight last year, while the train after, the 7.44am, was on time an average of only once a week.
Nationwide, only 65 per cent of trains were on time. The best operator was Chiltern, which scored 85 per cent. Only two in five CrossCountry services were punctual, while barely half of Southern trains reached their destination on time.
A spokesman for Southern said: “We acknowledge that the performance of the 7.29am Brighton to London Victoria service has been particularly disappointing.
“Although we're working hard to improve its performance, its planned path is extremely tight because the network is so busy.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said: "Passengers paying some of the highest annual commuter fares are being taken to the cleaners by the train companies when it comes to quality and reliability of service."Reuse content