Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 10:40 GMT
Rail complaints soar
Rail firms say they have encouraged complaints
Complaints about rail services have risen by 39%, new figures reveal.
The Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee received 4,996 complaints between July and September.
Committee Chairman, David Bertram, said: "The reality is that reliability and punctuality are now no better than when privatisation began."
The number of complaints about information availability increased 66% and overcrowding by 64%. In all, complaints were up in 30 of the 52 aspects of service recorded.
The committee also reported that the overall national figures showed that for the year ending September 1998, the proportion of train delays was 35% higher and cancellations were 33% higher than in the 12 months ending March 1997, which marked the completion of rail privatisation.
Virgin least punctual
Richard Branson's Virgin West Coast Scottish route was still at the bottom of the punctuality league over the 12-months to September 1998.
It managed to run only 74.4% of trains on time, against a target of 90%.
The general decline in performance led to passenger discounts being triggered on 12 routes, compared with only five for the 12 months period to September 1997.
On service reliability - the percentage of trains which actually run - the worst performer was Silverlink's North London Lines route with 31 out of every 1,000 trains cancelled. By contrast, ScotRail Express only cancelled one in 1,000.
Two in five of routes failed to meet Passenger's Charter targets in the 12 months to September 1998. This triggered discounts on four routes compared with only one in the previous year.
Ivor Warburton, Chairman of the Association of Train Operating Companies said many of the increases were due to rail firms actively encouraging people to complain about substandard services.
"Performance and reliability will improve noticeably once railways start to feel the benefit of new trains, new track, new signalling and additional drivers.
"At the moment we've got the builders in - and that's reflected in these complaint figures," he said.
However, Mr Bertram said passengers needed to see "fast action remedies to combat this decline in quality".
He added: "Given this continuously falling level of performance, I welcome both the franchising director's requirement for action plans from the operators and the government's announcement of a 'hit squad' to tackle the problem."