Posted 13th April 2012 | 12 Comments
More trains 'on time', but now goalposts may move
91.9 per cent of Virgin services were officially on time in March, compared with 90.6 per cent a year earlier
THE INDUSTRY is celebrating its operating performance last month, which was the second best during March since privatisation. 93.4 per cent of trains were officially 'on time' and all operators achieved at least 90 per cent for 'one of the very few times in recorded history', according to Network Rail.
But it's also reported that ministers are considering whether the five- and ten- minute punctuality margins should be reduced, with ominous implications for the performance tables.
At the moment, commuter trains which are up to five minutes late at their final destinations are still considered to be 'on time', while for intercity services the equivalent margin is 10 minutes.
This flexibility can conceal greater delays en route, and it is an open secret that some schedules have been 'padded' with extra recovery time in recent years to make it easier for drivers to reclaim some vital minutes in the closing stages of a journey.
Watchdog Passenger Focus has been campaigning for a tightening of the rules for some time, and transport minister Norman Baker was also a supporter of the idea when the Liberal Democrats were in opposition during the last Parliament.
Now Mr Baker has told The Guardian that a review is under way in which 'nothing is off the table', including precise right time measurements.
"Punctuality is very much on my radar and I have been examining this for a number of weeks,” he is reported to have said. "As a Coalition Government we should be determined to drive up performance on the railways.”
Mr Baker can count on support from Passenger Focus. A spokesman for the watchdog said passengers want their trains 'actually on time', not up to five or 10 minutes late.
The spokesman added: "To drive passenger satisfaction higher, the industry should focus on running trains to the timetable – not just at the final destination, but at intermediate stations too. We understand that there are ongoing discussion about how future targets are set.”
ATOC has yet to comment, but it seems unlikely that the plans will be welcomed by train operators, because performance statistics are also used to calculate compensation payments to passengers for late running. This chain of refunds can also include Network Rail if the cause of the delay was a fault affecting signalling or other infrastructure.
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