When rail companies say their trains are ‘on time’ - but you know they aren’t
everything started when I was glancing idly at a Southern Railway performance poster while looking forward to a delayed train. The posters are displayed around the network and proudly demonstrate how rail companies have hit their target for service performance - or at best the way they have run near to it. Speculate I stared in the poster I wondered how more than 80% of trains were supposedly running punctually, yet my experience was nothing can beat that.
Initially I figured a couple of bad days around the trains were clouding my perception, and actually most trains were running promptly. Nevertheless it didn’t ring true, so from the beginning of 2016 I started to help keep an eye on my journeys, comparing time I ought to have arrived at my destinations with once i actually did (or even in some instances didn't).
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Between your start of January and mid-April I needed lost a lot more than 24 hours because of delayed or cancelled trains. And as I write at the begining of May, that figure has become greater than 29 hours, which doesn’t include two days where I couldn’t travel as a result of strike. This is a proof of how badly our rail services perform and how this really is masked by clever presentation with the data.
For your rail companies I personally use regularly, Southern and Thameslink, both operated by Govia, the latest official public performance measure (PPM) was that 82.5% of services were promptly. However when I checked out my figures the image was very different: around 37% of services had arrived within a few minutes of these scheduled time. Some might debate that my figures can’t show the way the service is performing overall since they are to get a small group of journeys on limited routes and therefore statistically irrelevant. For many people they may be definitive, nevertheless they do reveal that my experience is nowhere close to the one the rail firms say I will be getting. I'm certainly one of a huge selection of those who perform the same or similar journeys and that we all get affected. I wonder if really us recorded our journeys whether their data would be closer to mine or that of the rail companies?
I commute daily from Horsham in Sussex to London, and I usually finish my journey at London Bridge or City Thameslink. Until last year I had been commuting 32 miles to Chichester on near-empty trains, which require me to pay about £1,600 annually to get a journey of approximately an hour or so door-to-door. But, to get a better job and salary, I traded it in for the packed trains to London, increasing my journey by simply six or seven miles. However, the fare rose to simply in short supply of £4,000 a year. Your way time also increased - it’s often greater than two hours door-to-door, and that’s without delays. Thankfully, I generally get a seat most mornings, however a change at East Croydon means located on packed trains. You can find days when I’ve been not able to board a train due to the overcrowding.
The amount of time lost to delays include a lot of snippets of your time - a few minutes in some places occasionally punctured by a horrendous delay. But no less than with major delays it comes with an chance to claim compensation. So far in 2016 I have received about £60 from Govia for delays. This, though, is of little consolation for the constant late arrival at work inside them for hours to play catch-up. There are days when I think that Reggie Perrin as I reel from the latest excuse provided by the rail company if you are late. But it’s quite serious when it tarnishes your professional reputation: any meeting scheduled for before 9.30am sees me getting out of bed at 5.30am just to ensure I'll allow it to be. And also i then have been late a few times.
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‘There are days I'm like Reggie Perrin’
Around the journey home it’s the household who are suffering. I've four young children; if my train is delayed I won’t arrive at read using one of them, create a little Lego or play inside their Minecraft world. Minor things - but not if you’re four or seven years old and possess waited throughout the day to behave with daddy.
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My partner suffers similarly, waiting those few minutes more for that extra pair of hands to give her an escape. Evenings out are precious and few, but we have often missed out on trips for the cinema because my late arrival has meant we can’t make it happen in time. Snippets of energy, perhaps, but they are persistent and cumulatively corrosive.
So just why this difference between my experience and the PPMs? To begin with, they don’t reflect actual passenger journeys but they are instead an unrealistic means of trying to capture punctuality. “Late” for any rail business is arriving a few minutes late at the destination, in what occur in between irrelevant as the is through not taken until the end of the journey. So if the train is running late it might skip several stations making up. Five minutes is another wide margin. On other national railways, for example those invoved with Japan and Switzerland, the margin is slimmer for defining a train as late.
Also, the figures the rail companies give on their own posters are an aggregation throughout the day and also the week; plus they don’t look at the amount of people using a train. So trains carrying a huge selection of people can be late regularly, but trains for a passing fancy route that run late at night or in the weekend and carry just a number of passengers can arrive promptly and mask the massive impact with the other service failures.
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There is certainly adequate information regarding compensation for cancelled and late trains when the delay is much more than half an hour, but is it enough? About 7% of my journeys fell into the category where I could claim. But the proportion of journeys 15 minutes late was nearly 20%.
The train companies inform us they are undertaking huge amounts of try to increase their services, if perhaps we can bear using them longer - but it’s a promise that appears to be perpetually dangled in front of us and never fulfilled. The Reggie Perrin joke is Age forty, but what has evolved since then, aside from the eye-wateringly high fares, supposedly to fund the rail nirvana that never comes?
I understand that not every issue is inside the control of the rail companies or Network Rail. Weather brings circumstances that no quantity of preparation could handle. And then there may be the human factor: trespassers and fatalities, which are probably most difficult to control, truly passengers are understanding about these. Overall, though, these take into account probably lower than 10% of delays, in accordance with Network Rail. In fact, other delays are inside scope from the rail firms or Network Rail to handle.
The rail companies not have the incentive to tackle this issue, as the control over the figures lies in what they can control. The “five minutes” on the terminus might have been acceptable in the era of British Rail in the event it used someone with a clipboard marking off the arrival time, however in age of digital recording and data-sharing a more elaborate is through called for that appears on the journey as a whole. Also, 30 minutes is simply too long a delay for compensation being paid. Decreasing the limit to fifteen minutes would mean a larger chance of suffering financial loss, so would encourage shareholders to push for much better punctuality. There must also be a weighting system for late-running trains, so the ones that inconvenience large numbers of passengers have a greater corresponding impact on the entire figures than less busy services.
I've had enough and will also be leaving my job in London soon for just one nearer to home. I'm guilty for quitting after only annually, but while we're served so poorly by our railways no salary can justify the worries, exhaustion and misery that accompany a commute to London.
Response from Southern Railway
We asked Southern Railway to answer the allegations produced by Matt Steel. Inside a statement, it said: “We are sorry people includes a bad time … We realize it’s been difficulty for passengers using the constraints at London Bridge while it’s being rebuilt, and much more recently with the consequences of our own ongoing industrial relations issues.
“Our performance figures … overall may well not reflect a person’s individual experience, and that we continue to strive to make improvements across the network - we don’t see the industry PPM measure like a target to become achieved, but we strive to acquire every train to its destination at its published arrival time.
“It’s best to visit your reader has realized that there is certainly more information available on claiming compensation for delays, and increasing numbers of claims be affected by it. However, we realize a minimum qualifying period of Quarter-hour for compensation has been called for, which is a thing that the Department for Transport is considering.”
Southern added that while some trains do skip stops to create up time, it is rare and that “if this is achieved, there is nothing to get performance measure-wise as a train that skips stops is asserted like a PPM failure - even when it does reach its destination on time”.