Some train companies may lengthen journey times to improve punctuality, it has been revealed.
One out of every five trains is late
Network Rail proposed train companies add up to five minutes onto every journey when the summer timetable is published in May.
The suggestion was made in a letter to train companies leaked to BBC News.
Train companies rejected the proposal network-wide as unworkable but accepted minutes may be added route-by-route.
Network Rail said the plan could boost train punctuality figures from 80% to 83% before the next general election.
Its head of operational planning, John Conway, reportedly told January's monthly meeting of the railways' national task force the plan would give the government the "quick win" it wanted.
Stagecoach head of rail Graham Eccles told the Daily Telegraph the proposal had come from Network Rail's top management.
The government has put the rail industry under intense pressure to hit performance targets - but with little result.
If adopted, the new initiative would involve five minutes being added to journeys of more than four-and-a-half hours and one minute for journeys up to 90 minutes.
On Friday a Network Rail spokesman confirmed the task force had been examining "a way of making the timetable more realistic."
He continued: "The task force meeting this week agreed not to introduce the changes on a blanket basis, but one or two train companies in certain areas may take the idea forward.
"We don't want to have a timetable that has targets that we have no way of hitting."
Shadow transport secretary Theresa May said of the proposed timetable changes: "If it wasn't going to affect passengers it would be laughable."
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The government has set them [train companies] a target on punctuality and the only way they think they can meet the target on punctuality is to have fewer trains or to make trains slower."
Stewart Francis, the chairman of the Rail Passengers Council, said: "What passengers are looking for is genuine improvement in punctuality, not having the wool pulled over their eyes.
"Once again, the industry has forgotten to consult the customer.
"What this does is build greater cynicism amongst passengers, rather than goodwill."
One fifth of trains are still not running on time and the degree of overcrowding, particularly on the south east England commuter routes, has been highlighted in a report by the House of Commons Transport Committee.
What do you think of the proposal? Will it improve punctuality?
I've been commuting for 7 years. When I started, the timetables for my journey showed 45 minutes. 8 of the 10 weekly journeys arrived within 5 minutes of the timetable. It is now 55 minutes on the timetable, and usually takes more than an hour. I really don't care about the so-called performance figures, the fact is that the trains are stealing my time from me.
Nic Brough, London, UK
Absolutely not! This is deceiving the customer base as a whole, and eventually train operators will become more complacent and again the problem will exist with very little difference except a slower train service.
Alex Mason, Southampton, England
And this on the day that London launches its Olympic bid. Wasn't one of the criteria that the winning city has to have good transport links?
Adam, London, UK
As a member of on-board staff with a major train operating company, I very much doubt that 'adding on' minutes to timetables will have very little effect in improving punctuality. At present something seems to happen every day to make what should be a standard rail journey into an extraordinary one. This normally happens due to points failures, track circuit failures, weather conditions and emergency speed restrictions due to the poor state of the track. All these problems point to one clear cause, clear lack of investment over the preceding years.
Ross, Swansea, UK
This is an absolute disgrace! The general message is - as we cannot improve train punctuality let's amend the times so that our inefficiency and incompetence is hidden. Not only this, but tickets have already risen, so it's back to same story - high fares, poor service, lots of excuses.
Juan C, Surrey, England
This could well make things worse. If they add 5 minutes to the journey time but the train still travels at the same speed, it will arrive 5 minutes early for much of the time. When it does, it will then spend an extra 5 minutes at the station, so blocking the platform and delaying other services. The alternative is to add a minute or two between stations, but that will also cause congestion when the train has to wait until the correct departure time. Either way, it seems it will only lead to increased congestion on the lines, causing more delays!
Jon Combe, Woking, UK
It is the right thing to do. I went on holiday in Switzerland and the trains there wait for up to 10 minutes at each stop. This means if a delay happened, the train would be able to catch up. I found all the Swiss trains I went on to be bang on time. It's much less annoying to get there at the time you expect even if you have a slower journey.
Becky, Reading-London commuter, UK