How punctual are Britain’s trains? The answer might be a shock!

Aberdeen Station, one of the stations on the First ScotRail network, which has seen punctuality fall this year.
Aberdeen Station, on the First ScotRail network, which has seen punctuality fall this year.
Attribution: CC0 Public Domain

Network Rail, the firm behind Britain’s railways, yesterday announced that it paid out bonuses of nearly £60m to workers last year, almost half of its maximum payout. The bonuses came despite the fact that the railway operator has been fined more than £53m in the past year for missing punctuality targets by significant margins. The news got us here at Transporting London thinking, and we did some digging into just how late trains in Britain really are. The results might surprise you.

Making the trains run on time

People are forever complaining about the lateness of trains, and stories like the one of the 8.29 from Brighton to London give the impression of a country plagued by unreliable trains. In fact, trains in the UK are, by and large, pretty punctual. Of the 22 train companies surveyed by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), only six saw their trains arrive late more than ten per cent of the time, and only one more than 20 per cent of the time.

Last week, the ORR, which describes itself as ‘the independent safety and economic regulator for Britain’s railways’, released the results of its Public Performance Measure (PPM) survey for quarter four of 2014-15. The PPM is based on how many of a rail operator’s services arrive at their final destination on time, or within five minutes of that time.

The most efficient and punctual operator was c2c, which runs service between London and various destinations in Essex. It saw 97.5 per cent of its services arrive at their destination on time according to the PPM. This figure represents an increase of 1.4 per cent from the same period last year. Coming in second was Merseyrail, which had a PPM of 96.1 per cent, although this represented a fall in performance of 0.4 per cent from 2013-14. Languishing at the foot of the tardiness tables was the much maligned Southern Trains, which saw just 78.3 per cent of its services arrive on time, a decline of 2.4 per cent from the previous year. Their poor performance has been blamed on the substantial works being carried out at London Bridge Station, which Southern uses as a hub.

Things are getting better

In terms of change, things look largely positive for the nation’s railways. Only 6 of the 22 providers saw falls in their punctuality, whilst 16 saw increases. First Scotrail was the worst performing franchise year on year, becoming four per cent less punctual than in Q4 of 2013-14. This decline was said to be thanks to ‘severe weather experienced in Scotland at the beginning of January’. Other groups which saw a decrease in punctuality were the London Overground, the Heathrow Express, Virgin Trains West Coast, Merseyrail and First Transpennine Express.

The winner of Q4’s most improved performer award goes to Grand Central, which operates unfranchised services on the East Coast Mainline. Its timeliness increased by a huge 8.1 per cent in the last quarter of 2014-15, leaving it 1.5 per cent ahead of its nearest rival Virgin Trains East Coast, who saw punctuality grow by 6.6 per cent. Southeastern, CrossCountry, First Great Western, and First Hull Trains also saw growth in punctuality in excess of four per cent.

So there we have it. Next time your train is late, take some comfort in the fact that the vast majority of other people’s trains will be running on time!

N.B All data was retrieved from the Office for Rail Regulation, and is available here
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