At least the trains are running on time (Or are they?)

by Stephen Tall on May 27, 2009

The news isn’t all doom ‘n’ gloom, y’know – even in the Telegraph:

Trains are more punctual than ever, Network Rail has claimed, with more than nine out of 10 arriving on time over the past year. The figures are the best since the industry started collating punctuality statistics in 1992. Last month the performance was even better than the yearly average, with 93.5 per cent of services classed as running on time. The industry’s definition of punctuality is based on commuter services operating within five minutes of the timetable and for longer distance trains, 10 minutes.

However, Lib Dem transport terrier Norman Baker isn’t jumping for joy, railing (sorry) against Network Rail’s definition of ‘on time’:

The industry considers that anything up to five minutes late, and in some cases even 10 minutes, is still on time. Many passengers will have a different view. It’s not good enough to simply record that half a million trains were within five minutes of their schedule. On time should mean on time.”

Norman has a point, especially for long-distance journeys which may involve connections – and where a train running 10 minutes’ late can make all the difference. That said, and assuming Network Rail’s definitions have remained constant over time, it can’t be denied that the figures do signal (sorry, again) genuine sevice improvement.

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I am reminded of that Top Gear episode when they’re in Japan – the trains there are only considered on time if they arrive within a minute of their intended arrival time, and they still have a very high percentage of on time trains!

Then again, they have a modern, well invested transport network which doesn’t rely on dozens of different parties and they also have a rail network that isn’t 150 years old.

by Huw Dawson on May 27, 2009 at 1:27 pm. Reply #

I hope Norman isn’t suggesting that the Telegraph didn’t do its fact-checking properly – the very idea! (/sarcasm)

by James Graham on May 27, 2009 at 1:33 pm. Reply #

Also, can anyone find one how much they have padded out the timetables now to avoid fines?

by LibCync on May 27, 2009 at 2:49 pm. Reply #

Absolutely LibCync, some journeys now take longer than they did 30 years ago solely because of padding.

by Kevin on May 27, 2009 at 6:00 pm. Reply #

I have the detailed figures on padding, and they are grim. The citizen’s charter has a lot to answer for!

by tim leunig on May 27, 2009 at 9:13 pm. Reply #

tim leunig,

please supply the details – or at least a link.

just to explain – the statistics are based on arrival at destination, so the last few miles of a journey can be “padded” to help the statistics

For example: Holyhead to Valley (start of journey) takes 6-7 minutes; in the other direction trains are allowed 12 minutes. Arriva Trains Wales services starting from Cardiff are allowed 14 minutes to Newport; southbound [i.e. reaching their destination] they’re allowed 17-22 minutes.

Perhaps Norman Baker could ask if the DfT has made any assessment of any changes in the practice of “padding” over recent years?

by crewegwyn on May 27, 2009 at 9:37 pm. Reply #

“it can’t be denied that the figures do signal (sorry, again) genuine sevice improvement”

Actually it could. All these stats show is that more trains are within 5 minutes late than before. But what it doesn’t show is what has happened to all the other trains that were already within 5 minutes late. For instance, a train that before was on average only 1 minute late, could now be 4 minutes late on average. So while less trains are over 5 minutes late, the average train could actually be later than before.

This is certainly a possibility, though obviously we’ll probably never know, but the fact they’ve dressed their statistics up the way they have doesn’t bode well. And it’s not a huge stretch to imagine it happening, considering a similar principle is behind the Labour drive to get NHS waiting times down below a certain level.

by Alex on May 28, 2009 at 3:55 am. Reply #

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