When rail companies say their trains are ‘on time’ - however you know they aren’t
all of it started after i was glancing idly in a Southern Railway performance poster while waiting for a delayed train. The posters are displayed across the network and proudly demonstrate how rail companies have hit their target for service performance - or at least that they have run near to it. But as I stared on the poster I wondered how more than 80% of trains were supposedly running promptly, yet my experience was nothing can beat that.
Initially I thought a couple of bad days on the trains were clouding my perception, and in reality most trains were running on time. However it didn’t ring true, so from the beginning of 2016 I started to maintain on top of my journeys, comparing time I ought to have arrived at my destinations with when I actually did (or even in some instances didn't).
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Between the start of January and mid-April I'd lost greater than A day because of delayed or cancelled trains. So when I write in early May, that figure is now greater than 29 hours, which doesn’t include a couple of days where I couldn’t travel due to a strike. It's a testament to how badly our rail services perform and how this is masked by clever presentation of the data.
For the rail companies I take advantage of regularly, Southern and Thameslink, both run by Govia, the latest official public performance measure (PPM) was that 82.5% of services were punctually. However, if I looked over my figures the picture was different: around 37% of services had arrived within five minutes of these scheduled time. Some might argue that my figures can’t show the way the services performing overall as they are for a limited number of journeys on limited routes and therefore statistically irrelevant. I am not saying they may be definitive, nevertheless they do show that my experience is nowhere close to the one the rail firms say I will be getting. I will be among a huge selection of those who perform the same or similar journeys and we all get affected. I ponder if really us recorded our journeys whether their data could be closer to mine or that relating to the rail companies?
I commute daily from Horsham in Sussex to London, and i also usually finish my journey at London Bridge or City Thameslink. Until a year ago I was commuting 32 miles to Chichester on near-empty trains, which require me to pay about £1,600 annually for a journey of about one hour door-to-door. But, for any better job and salary, I traded it in for the packed trains to London, increasing my journey by just six or seven miles. However, the fare rose to simply in short supply of £4,000 annually. Your way time also increased - it’s often more than a couple of hours door-to-door, and that’s without delays. Thankfully, I generally obtain a seat most mornings, but a change at East Croydon means standing on packed trains. You will find days when I’ve been unable to board a train as a result of overcrowding.
The times of day lost to delays are made up of plenty of snippets of your time - a few momemts in some places occasionally punctured with a horrendous delay. But a minimum of with major delays it comes with an possibility to claim compensation. Up to now in 2016 I have received about £60 from Govia for delays. This, though, is of little consolation for your constant late arrival at the office and having to play catch-up. You can find days when I think that Reggie Perrin while i reel off the latest excuse given by the rail company for being late. But it’s serious in the event it tarnishes your professional reputation: any meeting scheduled for before 9.30am sees me getting up at 5.30am in order to ensure I am going to ensure it is. As well as i then happen to be late a few times.
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‘There are days I feel like Reggie Perrin’
About the journey home it’s your family who suffer. I have four young kids; if my train is delayed I won’t arrive at read and among them, build a little Lego or play within their Minecraft world. Minor things - however, not if you’re four or seven years of age and possess waited all day to behave with daddy.
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My wife suffers similarly, waiting those couple of minutes more for your extra couple of hands to offer her a rest. Evenings out are precious and few, but we've often overlooked trips towards the cinema because my late arrival has meant we can’t arrive in time. Snippets of energy, perhaps, but they're persistent and cumulatively corrosive.
So why this distinction between my experience and also 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 your destination, in what happens in between irrelevant because the is through not taken until the end of the journey. Therefore the train is running late it might skip several stations to make up. Five minutes is another wide margin. On other national railways, such as those in Japan and Switzerland, the margin is slimmer for defining a train as late.
Also, the figures the rail companies give on the posters are an aggregation over the day and also the week; and they don’t consider the amount of people employing a train. So trains carrying countless people may be late regularly, but trains for a passing fancy route operating shortly before bedtime or at the weekend and carry only a number of passengers can arrive on time and mask the large impact from the other service failures.
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There is certainly adequate details about compensation for cancelled and late trains when the delay is much more than 30 minutes, but is it enough? About 7% of my journeys fell to the category where I could claim. But the proportion of journeys 15 minutes late was nearly 20%.
The train companies reveal that they are undertaking immeasureable work to increase their services, if only we can bear with them longer - but it’s a promise that seems to be perpetually dangled before us and never fulfilled. The Reggie Perrin joke is Age forty, what is different since then, with the exception of the eye-wateringly high fares, supposedly to cover the rail nirvana that never comes?
I understand that doesn't every concern is inside the control of the rail companies or Network Rail. The weather brings circumstances that no quantity of preparation could handle. And then there will be the human factor: trespassers and fatalities, which can be probably most challenging to handle, but usually passengers are understanding about these. Overall, though, these are the cause of probably lower than 10% of delays, based on Network Rail. The truth is, most other delays are inside scope from the rail firms or Network Rail to handle.
The rail companies don't have the incentive to tackle this matter, because the treatments for the figures is based on what they can control. The “five minutes” at the terminus may have been acceptable within the era of British Rail in the event it used someone using a clipboard marking off of the arrival time, however in age of digital recording and data-sharing a more sophisticated is through needed that appears on the journey overall. Also, half an hour is too long a delay for compensation being paid. Decreasing the limit to fifteen minutes means a better possibility of suffering financial loss, so would encourage shareholders to push for better punctuality. There must also be considered a weighting system for late-running trains, so the ones that inconvenience many passengers have a greater corresponding impact on the overall figures than less busy services.
I've had enough and will be leaving my job london soon for just one closer to home. I'm guilty for quitting for only a year, but while we're served so poorly by our railways no salary can justify the strain, exhaustion and misery that is included with a commute to London.
Response from Southern Railway
We asked Southern Railway to answer the allegations made by Matt Steel. In a statement, it said: “We are sorry the various readers features a bad time … We realize it’s been a difficult time for passengers using the constraints at London Bridge while it’s being rebuilt, plus more recently with all the consequences in our ongoing industrial relations issues.
“Our performance figures … in general might not reflect a person’s individual experience, so we continue to work hard to produce improvements across the network - we don’t start to see the industry PPM measure as a target being achieved, but we attempt to obtain every train to its destination at its published arrival time.
“It’s helpful to call at your reader has noticed that there's more details entirely on claiming compensation for delays, and more and more claims be affected by it. However, we realize that the minimum qualifying period of Fifteen minutes for compensation has been called for, and that is something which the Department for Transport is considering.”
Southern added that while some trains do skip stops to produce up time, it's rare and that “if this is accomplished, there is nothing to gain performance measure-wise being a train that skips stops is asserted as a PPM failure - even though it does reach its destination on time”.