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Thursday, February 11, 1999 Published at 14:11 GMT


Train firms under fire

Train companies are being told to clean up their act

Punctuality on British trains is getting even worse according to watchdog figures that are "not good enough".

BBC Transport Correspondent Christopher Wain: "What should be normal travel is now turning into an ordeal"
Just one of the 25 private train companies - the Isle of Wight Island Line - achieved top marks for both punctuality and reliability in 1998.

The Rail Franchising Director, John O'Brien, who released the figures said: "Punctuality remains poor and these results are not good enough."

Some companies' performances were described as "truly awful" by the Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee.

[ image: train table]
train table
The committee added that despite continued deterioration in performance, the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (Opraf) still made bonus payments of £14m to train companies while penalties totalled only £8.3m.

Sir Alan Greengross, chairman of the London Regional Passengers' Committee, said that Britain's experiment in privatisation of its train network had a long way to go before it could be called a success.

"After all the hype surrounding privatisation of the railways, reality is dawning," he said.

"Gaudy liveries for trains and trendy uniforms for staff are no substitute for the basics: that the trains must run, and run on time," he said.

'Must do better'

Minister of Transport John Reid admitted that overall performance figures were disappointing.

He said: "Passengers are getting a poor service and this is unacceptable.

"If train operators want their franchises extended, then they should be under no illusions that current performance needs to improve tangibly. Their long-suffering passengers deserve no less."

But James Gordon, director general of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: "Punctuality is proving a hard nut to crack in the face of unprecedented growth.

James Gordon: "Punctuality a tough nut to crack"
"We are tackling the problem through our 10-point action plan in full co-operation with Railtrack and the government.

"The fruits of the massive investment programme are beginning to come through, but it will be some time before we see dramatic improvements."

Mr Gordon said more than 1,000 extra trains were being run every day and reliability was improving.

"The network is running at full stretch, but the operators are determined to serve their passengers better through improved services while continuing to provide for the growth in passenger numbers," he said.

Virgin least punctual

It is the first time that Opraf has published tables putting each of the 25 train companies into performance categories based on punctuality and reliability.

Transport Minister Dr John Reid MP: "This has got to change and we are going to change it"
Island Line was the only company to get into the A category, scoring an A for both punctuality and reliability.

There were seven companies in category B, 10 in category C, six in D and one - Silverlink Trains - in E.

The BBC's Simon Montague reports on the decline
Richard Branson's Virgin CrossCountry line had the poorest marks for punctuality - 82.3% - while ScotRail had the best - 95.9%. Silverlink, formerly North London Lines, had the worst reliability figure - 97.9% - while Midland Main Line had the best - 99.8%.

Customer satisfaction figures for each of the train companies were also published.

Those companies that came out badly included Chiltern Railways, where customers considered services had got worse in 13 of 19 categories, and Cardiff Railway, where 15 of 17 categories had deteriorated.

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