The performance of rail companies in the UK is getting worse, with 20% of trains still running late and passenger complaints up by 8% over the past year.
Punctuality is not thought to have improved over the past year
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling admitted the Strategic Rail Authority figures published on Monday were disappointing.
Plans to improve the operation and performance of the train network were also outlined by the SRA on Monday, including more details of "huge" investment in the upgrade of the key West Coast main line.
Mr Darling said inflation-busting increases in fares might be necessary to avoid increasing the burden on the taxpayer, but he said extra money would eventually yield progress.
"The investment which is going into the railway is slowly but surely bearing results."
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there had not been the necessary improvement but insisted the industry was at least now being realistic.
"The performance today has been disappointing. It should have been a lot better, but there is now a realism in the industry," he said.
"When I took up my job a year ago it wasn't there, people were blaming each other.
"We've got a plan, we're getting on with it, we're getting a grip of the situation, we're sorting out the problems and that's why I'm optimistic about the future of the railways."
The SRA figures showed 80.5% of trains ran on time in January-March 2003, against 80.9% in the same period in 2002.
Complaints per 100,000 journeys increased 8% between the first three months of 2002 and the first three months of this year.
Virgin CrossCountry was the worst of the train operators, managing to get only 67.8% of its trains to run on time in the first three months of the year.
There were some improvements with passenger satisfaction up and overcrowding on commuter lines out of London down.
Mr Darling's comments about rail came as a transport group said congestion charging should be brought in across Britain.
The Independent Transport Commission said the reduction of taxes on motoring would offset the effect of tiered pricing in rural and busier urban areas.
The SRA also set out on Monday how it expects to make better use of the railways over the next eight years.
It revealed places where the pressure of increasing the number of trains will affect their punctuality.
About 180 services are being cut this year to ease pressure across the network.
Earlier this year the SRA announced more than 500 trains a week would be scrapped as part of an ongoing crusade to cut congestion.
On Monday, SRA boss Richard Bowker said: "There is not going to be a sweeping or slashing of services. What there is going to be is targeted
analysis of certain parts of the network that are over-stretched.
"I'm not saying there will be no service cuts but in three years' time when we will have finished this process there will be more trains and more
Shadow Transport Secretary Tim Collins said: "These figures confirm that the
government's transport policy is a complete shambles.
"Only under Labour would it be thought reasonable to expect both passengers
and taxpayers to pay more and more for a worse and worse service."
RMT union leader Bob Crow blamed the failure of the railways on privatisation, saying: "The privateers have sucked out billions from the
industry in profits.
"It has never been more obvious that the time has come to end this disastrous experiment and bring the railways back into public ownership
where they belong."
Can the performance of the Railways be improved? Would you be prepared to pay more for better services?
WAGN have found a way of increasing the punctuality of all their peak time trains. With the publishing of their summer timetable all morning peak time trains are scheduled to arrive in Liverpool Street Station 7 minutes later than in the previous timetable!
My experience of off peak travelling is of empty carriages and high fares (Higher than the buses and car transport). I am sure with proper marketing the trains could be filled with passengers paying considerably less than they do now. Very little advertising is done locally to encourage people to use trains off peak. With these services becoming more profitable pressure could be taken off peak time commuters fairs.
Brian, Huntingdon, UK
Public Transport is a system. As such it has been a victim of the battle of ideologies between the Labour and Conservative Parties. Other European countries spend money providing and improving services - here we spend money reorganising (privatisation etc). - More work for lawyers and accountants less for transport workers and engineers!
Stephen Bird, UK
My fares cost me £711 per quarter (after discount). I find that I have to get a train before 7am to guarantee a seat. The trains are dirty, outdated and consistently late. Why on earth should I pay even more money? In what other business sector would you expect to pay more for a below par service? My problem is lack of choice - I either put up and shut up, or look for work outside of London. That is what the Rail companies bank on when they increase the fares.
Mark S, Haywards Heath
I thought the whole idea of reducing congestion was to get us out of our cars and into public transport. Expecting customers to pay more for a poor product which shows no sign of improvement will only force people back behind the wheel. Where's the incentive? Simply saying it's going to get better, isn't good enough. Prove it first!
Jim McGuire, London
I live and commute within Bristol, a city with known congestion problems. We have a train line that cuts through the traffic, travelling through the most congested, hard to reach areas in around ten minutes. Most commuters on this pleasant local train line would be happy to pay more if it meant more carriages and more frequent journeys. I envisage something like the Gatwick Express - a well branded service with lots of publicity and slightly higher fares. But Wessex Trains, who run the service have said they are unable to improve this service - even increasing the ticket prices (which are set nationally and can't be increased) or having more customers wouldn't be enough money to warrant more journeys or carriages. It is a curious but sad situation for a much loved historic inner city railway line - because one day it will stop running, unless the council or the government steps in to help fund things and take away the regulating hurdles.
Ale, Bristol, UK
As a relatively new commuter, the logic of the industry never fails to amaze me. The concept of cutting trains because they run on time during strike periods is laughable. It doesn't help if trains run on time if they are so packed that people can't get on them! And paying for the privilege of standing on the platform is something many people would fancy.
I would quite happily pay more for rail travel, as long if I was to be delayed by an hour or more I would get full compensation of the fare. I cant see the train companies agreeing to this though.
I travel from Berkshire to London every weekday, and over the last few months, I can't remember one train arriving in London on time. The train I catch in the mornings now stops at two additional stops on the way in as well, causing more delays. Thankfully my stop is early in the journey and I generally get a seat, but a few stops into the journey, people are forced to stand. I cannot believe I am going to have to pay more for this service, a service which appears to be getting worse but never better. South West Trains now have a penalty fare policy, whereas before you could buy a ticket from the conductor. However there is always a long queue at the one window that sells tickets at my station which means having to arrive at least 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. There is a ticket machine, but it neither accepts notes nor debit cards. We are now being fined for catching a train without a valid ticket, but are never compensated for late arrivals, or cancellations. The only way that the commuters can make a statement is to boycott rail travel. This can be difficult, as many of us have no option. However, we should choose a day in advance where as many people as possible find alternative transport, work from home, or take a day's holiday. I think this is the only way to show the rail companies that they cannot take us for granted.
For a start the performance of the railway can be improved by;
Scrapping first class carriages so that everyone can get on a train; Cleaning the trains regularly so that they look presentable; Adding more carriages (even if trains are late - passengers are less worried if they are comfortable). How much more money do you need? At the moment train fares are extremely high. Why don't you borrow the money and repay it from futures profits, as you would expect with an improved service you will attract more customers? Make the shareholders pay, not us!!!!
Robert Pearce, England
We pay quite enough as it is to use the train at the moment. It is already prohibitively expensive especially for those of us who cannot specify exactly which train in advance one will use. It is also unreliable, the new trains are cramped, noisy and unpleasant to travel in with insufficient luggage capacity and I am forced into using my car more and more - I keep trying the train but they let me down nine times out of ten. They should be reducing the fare to reflect the level of service received - something around 20% of the current price would be about right...
Yes I am prepared to pay for better rail services. For years the rail services have been starved of investment. I am not convinced that Network Rail have the right management. The government should look to the oil industry for top management and give them the money to invest.
J A Snell, U K
Paying even more than £3000 annually for commuter rail travel is beyond ridiculous considering the already questionably poor service I get. If they can prove that they can actually do something that is worthy of the increase, (which would have to be pretty amazing), I don't feel they can justify long suffering commuters paying for their shortcomings so they can make a profit.
I just got back from Munich, where I was astounded by the fantastic public transport system. All means of transport - buses, underground, trains, trams - are linked and one ticket is transferable to all of them. A one-way ticket costs about 2 euros, and will take you anywhere in the city. There is always plenty of room, even at rush hour, everything is clean, and all public transport is punctual and frequent. I don't know what they do to make it so good, but we could definitely learn a thing or two. Railtrack have a lot of improvement to do.
Sam Miller, England
The performance of the Railways can be improved - as evidenced by railways abroad. However it will need more than just money - it will need a sea change in culture of both the railway industry and the Government. Currently the Railway Industry labours under similar built in excuses for perpetual under-achievement as does the NHS all the time swallowing money at an alarming rate for no real improvement.
Rail fares are already expensive enough, with commuters and those forced to travel at peak times hardest-hit. I really don't think rail passengers, viewing today's news about the underperformance of the rail network, will be in any mood to take fare increases lying down. Is it too simplistic to suppose that running fewer services, which the operators are planning to do, should actually result in lower fares?
Mark Potter, UK
Once again a politician tells us that the railways are a mess right now but are going to be better in the future. And once again we are told that the solution to the railways problems are higher fares and\or higher taxes. Politicians have been saying this for the entire 25 years that I have been a commuter. We will get the higher taxes and higher fares of course but there will be no improvement in the service - there never is. The problem isn't lack of funds, it's lack of will on the part of public transport workers. The railways are chiefly run as a job and income provision service for railway workers rather than a transport service for customers. The only solution is privatization and if that means some unprofitable lines closing so be it. After all the canals used to be a major form of transport which finally became obsolete - maybe it's time for railways to go the same way.
Al, London UK
I am living in Italy at the moment. Here trains are really cheap (20 pounds to travel 600km), fast and generally fairly on time. How come they can manage to do this and our trains are slow and expensive?
I reckon I already have paid for a decent rail network, several times over, through road and fuel taxation. Exactly where is all this money going? If it was all plowed back into transport infrastructure we could have the best rail network in the world instead of the worst.
The rail system is suffering the same problems as the airline industry. A simple lack of understanding of what the general public want from it. all the major international airline companies are making losses whilst all the "cheap seat" airlines are doubling their profit margins. All because they give people what they want. Transport from A to B at a reasonable cost. Without having to pay for the overpriced city offices, constant and costly "Image" changes. Keep it simple and make it work.
Why should customers need to pay a inflation-busting increase when its the fault of the rail companies not investing money in the rail-way? If they spent the same amount of money as they did developing the property they obtained with the railway all (I'm sure) would be doing much better. Tends to be the tax-payer and customers that pay for bad management.
Hydon Thorpe, UK
The most obvious way to improve the rail network would be to re-nationalise it. The myth of privatisation is obvious: any profit that a private shareholder could make from funding the railways could also be made by the government investing tax revenues. Privatisation has made the fares incomprehensibly complicated; introduced the new cost of the (ineffective) liaison between the various companies; created an absurd division between the ownership of the track and of the rolling stock; and led to the fatal under-repair of numerous key lines, as demonstrated at Potters Bar, Hatfield, and elsewhere. This has been a gross waste of public money, an affront to the principle of integrated transport, and a free gift to the environmentally-unfriendly pro-car lobby.