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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 08:03 GMT 09:03 UK
Still room for train improvements
Commuters waiting for trains
Figures show one in five trains are still running late

Late trains have become an irritation rail passengers have learnt to live with.

They have had to.

Since the Hatfield crash in October 2000 the British network has suffered an unprecedented level of delays.

As a result rail executives will closely examine Thursday's performance report from the Strategic Rail Authority - indeed some companies are so eager to show they are doing better they have put out even more recent figures, not yet published, which show further improvements.

Hard to improve

It is clear that things are improving.

A year ago on average one in four trains were late.

Now its one in five.

But before the Hatfield crash it was one in 10.

Train services are still not as reliable as they were then, and that is the problem facing train companies.

Long distance operators in particular are finding it hard to improve - after all, services like GNER and the Virgin Cross Country and West Coast routes run across the country, on a variety of sections of track, and in competition with many other train operators.

Queuing passengers
Delays have become a way of life for commuters

There are plenty of opportunities for delays.

With the recent train crash at Potters Bar, GNER has just suffered its third major period of disruption.

First it was the Hatfield crash, after that the disaster at Selby.

Yet none of the accidents that have closed the East Coast Main Line used by GNER trains have been blamed on the company.

Another problem has been the weather - flooding, rain and of course the autumn leaf fall have all triggered an expected dip in reliability.

Teething problems

But man-made factors have had a part to play too.

The rail passengers watchdog has warned about the number of new trains that are breaking down - indeed the sheer number of new carriages on the network has meant a number of 'teething problems'.

Commenting on the report, the Chairman of the Rail Passengers Council, Stewart Francis said: "It is encouraging to see more trains running to time but there is still plenty of room for performance improvements, particularly on routes carrying most passengers where results have still to reach pre-Hatfield levels.

"Sustained performance improvement is crucial with the focus on giving passengers their timetables back."


Since 1999 those fares which are unregulated have been rising faster than inflation

The government and the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) have been trying to broaden the way in which the performance of the railways is judged.

Government reports now measure the safety and comfort of services, and the SRA report publishes for the first time an index of rail fares.

It makes interesting reading.

Since 1999 those fares which are unregulated have been rising faster than inflation.

Long distance passengers using standard uncapped fares are paying 10%more.

Because Saver fares and many season tickets are protected from price rises, passengers travelling at short notice, and those making leisure trips are more likely to bear the brunt of higher fares.

Benefiting from delays

There is also concern that train companies are restricting the use of Saver fares.

On many long distance routes the only way of guaranteeing cheap tickets is now to book well in advance.

Some passengers have benefited from the regulation system.

In the south east, London commuter fares go up if train services run on time, and come down if trains are late.

For that reason they have fallen by 7% in real terms over three years.

Train companies are now starting to point out that making them cut fares will not help improve the service.

But "giving passengers their timetables back" remains the priority.

The rail industry agrees there is still plenty of room for improvement to the country's train services.

But it could be months before services are as reliable as they were before Hatfield - and even then there were plenty of delays.

BBC News Online's in-depth coverage on the state of the UK's railways


10 year rail plan

1,000 MILE RAIL TRIP
See also:

01 Jun 02 | England
26 May 02 | UK Politics
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