When rail companies say their trains are ‘on time’ - however, you know they aren’t
everything started after i was glancing idly with a Southern Railway performance poster while awaiting 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 that they have run near to it. But because I stared in the poster I wondered how greater than 80% of trains were supposedly running promptly, yet my experience was nothing can beat that.
In the beginning I figured a few 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 right away of 2016 I started to maintain a record of my journeys, comparing enough time I ought to have attained my destinations with once i actually did (or in some cases did not).
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Between your beginning of January and mid-April I had lost more than 24 hours due to delayed or cancelled trains. So when I write during the early May, that figure is currently 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 the way this really is masked by clever presentation with 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 on time. However, if I looked at my figures the image was completely different: around 37% of services had arrived within 5 minutes of these scheduled time. Some might reason that my figures can’t show how the service is performing overall because they are to get a limited number of journeys on limited routes and therefore statistically irrelevant. That does not mean they're definitive, nevertheless they do demonstrate that my experience is nowhere near the one the rail firms say I will receive. I will be certainly one of hundreds of individuals who do the same or similar journeys and that we all get affected. I wonder if really us recorded our journeys whether their data will be nearer to mine or that relating to 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 a year ago I had been commuting 32 miles to Chichester on near-empty trains, which require me to pay about £1,600 per year 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 simply six or seven miles. However, the fare rose to just in short supply of £4,000 annually. The journey time also improved - it’s often a lot more than 2 hours door-to-door, and that’s without delays. Thankfully, I generally get a seat most mornings, however a change at East Croydon means sitting on packed trains. There are days when I’ve been not able to board a train as a result of overcrowding.
The hours lost to delays include plenty of snippets of time - a couple of minutes every now and then occasionally punctured by way of a horrendous delay. But a minimum of with major delays there's an possibility to claim compensation. To date in 2016 I have received about £60 from Govia for delays. This, though, is of little consolation for your constant late arrival in the office and having to experience catch-up. You can find days when I feel like Reggie Perrin while i reel off the latest excuse given by the rail company to be late. But it’s serious if this tarnishes your professional reputation: any meeting scheduled for before 9.30am sees me getting out of bed at 5.30am in order to ensure I will make it. And also i then have already been late once or twice.
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‘There are days I'm like Reggie Perrin’
On the journey home it’s the household that suffer. We have four young kids; if my train is delayed I won’t reach read with one of them, build a little Lego or play within their Minecraft world. Minor things - however, not if you’re four or seven years old and also have waited all day some thing with daddy.
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My spouse suffers similarly, waiting those few minutes more for that extra pair of hands to offer her an escape. Evenings out are precious and few, but we now have often missed out on trips to the cinema because my late arrival has meant we can’t get there with time. Snippets of time, perhaps, however they are persistent and cumulatively corrosive.
So why this distinction between my experience and the PPMs? For a start, they don’t reflect actual passenger journeys but they are instead an unrealistic means of wanting to capture punctuality. “Late” to get a rail company is arriving a few minutes late your destination, with what occurs in between irrelevant since the measure is not taken 'till the end of the journey. So if the train is running late it might skip several stations making it. A few minutes is a wide margin. On other national railways, such as those who work in Japan and Switzerland, the margin is slimmer for defining a train as late.
Also, the figures the rail companies give on their posters are an aggregation over the day as well as the week; and so they don’t consider the amount of people using a train. So trains carrying hundreds of people could be late regularly, but trains on a single route running late into the evening or in the weekend and carry merely a couple of passengers can arrive punctually and mask the large impact of the other service failures.
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There is adequate details about compensation for cancelled and late trains when the delay is a lot more than half an hour, but can it be enough? About 7% of my journeys fell into the category where I really could claim. Nevertheless the proportion of journeys 15 minutes late was nearly 20%.
The train companies reveal that they're undertaking vast amounts of work to increase their services, only if we are able to bear together a little longer - but it’s a promise that seems to become perpetually dangled before us and never fulfilled. The Reggie Perrin joke is 40 years old, but what is different ever since then, with the exception of the eye-wateringly high fares, supposedly to fund the rail nirvana that never comes?
I understand that does not every problem is within the control of the rail companies or Network Rail. Weather brings circumstances that no level of preparation could handle. And then there will be the human factor: trespassers and fatalities, that are probably most difficult to control, in fact passengers are understanding about these. Overall, though, these account for probably lower than 10% of delays, based on Network Rail. In fact, most other delays are inside scope with the rail firms or Network Rail to manage.
The rail companies lack the incentive to tackle this issue, because the management of the figures lies in what they can control. The “five minutes” in the terminus could have been acceptable inside the era of British Rail when it used someone using a clipboard marking off of the arrival time, in age of digital recording and data-sharing a more elaborate measure is needed that looks on the journey overall. Also, 30 minutes is simply too long a delay for compensation to become paid. Lowering the limit to 15 minutes will mean a greater potential for suffering financial loss, so would encourage shareholders to push for better punctuality. There also needs to be described as a weighting system for late-running trains, so those who inconvenience many passengers possess a greater corresponding influence on the entire figures than less busy services.
I've had enough and you will be leaving my job in London soon for one closer to home. I feel guilty for quitting for only annually, 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 produced by Matt Steel. Inside a statement, it said: “We are sorry people has 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 the consequences in our ongoing industrial relations issues.
“Our performance figures … in general may not reflect a person’s individual experience, and we always work tirelessly to produce improvements across the network - we don’t start to see the industry PPM measure being a target to be achieved, but we strive to acquire every train to the destination at its published arrival time.
“It’s best to see your reader has pointed out that there is more info available on claiming compensation for delays, and increasing numbers of claims be affected by it. However, we all know a minimum qualifying period of 15 minutes for compensation may be needed, and that is a thing that the Department for Transport is considering.”
Southern added that although some trains do skip stops to create up time, it's rare which “if this is achieved, you'll find nothing to get performance measure-wise being a train that skips stops is said being a PPM failure - even if it can reach its destination on time”.