Inquiry reveals just a third of trains on Great Eastern Main Line arrive on time
PUBLISHED: 08:21 19 October 2015 | UPDATED: 14:44 20 October 2015
Copyright Archant Norfolk 2015
Commuters, passenger groups and MPs have thrown down the gauntlet to the region’s train bosses after an investigation revealed details of areas in which the service continues to perform poorly.
Starting today, our week-long series on rail in the region highlights several key areas where passengers experience problems.
-The continued under-performance of the Norwich to London service;
-How Network Rail is classed as being responsible for a large proportion of problems in this region;
-A drop in passenger satisfaction;
-How we pay more for our journeys than in other parts of the country;
-A funding system which sees passengers in the East indirectly prop up services elsewhere in the UK;
The series comes at a key time for the region’s train services, with three companies vying to run the Greater Anglia franchise for nine years from October next year.
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, chairman of the GEML (Great Eastern Main Line) Taskforce, said of our findings: “We have known for a long time that the infrastructure in East Anglia is not good enough and that passengers travelling through Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, don’t get a fair deal. The work of our campaign will put that right over the long term and we need both the train operator and Network Rail to play their part in that.”
Day one of our investigation confirms the region’s busiest train line, the Norwich to London service, is its poorest performing.
According to a Freedom of Information response from Network Rail, the GEML, which also serves Diss, Stowmarket and Ipswich, performed significantly worse than the national average – and all other local services – in terms of punctuality and cancellations in 2014/15.
Overall, Abellio’s public performance measure (PPM) – the proportion of commuting trains arriving at the terminating station within five minutes of their scheduled time – was the fifth worst of 23 UK rail operators, at just 86.3pc. This compared with a national average of 88pc.
The GEML’s PPM was 83.7pc, while the East Suffolk line between Lowestoft and Ipswich was also low at 84.2pc. All of the seven Norfolk and Suffolk lines we sought figures for showed a decline in performance since 2012, when Abellio took over the Greater Anglia franchise.
But our figures suggest Abellio are often powerless to improve the figures. Network Rail was classed as being responsible for 69pc of delays on the GEML last year, significantly higher than the national average of 59pc. More than a third (34pc) of delays were due to infrastructure problems, whereas 18pc were caused by other factors such as overrunning works. Abellio itself was responsible for 25pc of the delays.
Network Rail, which is responsible for maintaining the network and Abellio, which runs the services, insists the line compares well, considering its “extremely” high usage and have pledged to work together, investing millions, to improve the service further. It highlighted the latest PPM figures for the Greater Anglia network, which was 91.4pc, as evidence of improvements.
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We are investing around £170m this year on the line between London and Norwich to give passengers a more reliable and consistent service.
“We know how important this essential rail artery is to the region.”
Network Rail also publishes a range of other performance measures under which the Norwich to London line falls even further adrift.
Barely a third of trains on the GEML arrived within a minute of their scheduled time, compared with nearly twice that nationally.
The proportion of trains on the GEML service cancelled or significantly delayed was also high.
The New Anglia local enterprise partnership said it would keep pushing for improvements.
Chairman Mark Pendlington said: “Reliability is paramount. Make no mistake; we are keeping up the momentum so that we see the year-on-year transformation of the GEML and all routes to meet the demands of our 21st-century economy.”
The Norwich to Sheringham line via Cromer was the region’s best performing with a PPM score of 94.9pc. The Norwich to Lowestoft line has a PPM of 94.6pc. The King’s Lynn to King’s Cross service also scored poorly, with 84pc, a fall of 1.5pc since 2011/12.
However, a closer look at the figures shows that since Govia Thameslink Railway Limited took on the franchise last year, the PPM has improved by 4.4pc.
It has also got even better in the first few months of 2015/16. A spokesman said it had been “focusing hard” on improving the punctuality and reliability of services for passengers.
An Abellio Greater Anglia spokesman said...
“We share the aspiration of our customers to see further improvement in train service performance. We work closely at all times with Network Rail in jointly monitoring network issues and their effect on train service performance in aiming to deliver better and more consistent punctuality.
“We’re investing £35.5m in the current short franchise to improve our train fleet, performance, and customer service. This includes the investment we’re making in upgrading our Intercity trains with this programme well under way in providing more reliable and comfortable carriages. We are also investing in improvements to some of our electric train fleet using the Great Eastern Main Line.
“We are continuing to work in partnership with Network Rail and regional stakeholders in advance of the long franchise contract for the Greater Anglia network due to commence in October 2016. Abellio Greater Anglia has been at the forefront of the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce in building a positive case for the significant investment and improvements to help bring about the major enhancements to infrastructure and rolling stock for the East Anglia region that we all wish to see.”
The Department for Transport
Government transport chiefs have acknowledged performance has been “disappointing at times” though they expect improvements during the next franchise.
The Department for Transport said it was setting “stretching targets” that are aimed at cutting down on delays and cancellations.
Its new franchise agreement, announced last month, requires the next operator to provide “Norwich in 90” and “Ipswich in 60” services twice daily in both directions. There are also requirements for better carriages, additional services and free onboard wi-fi for all passengers.
The DfT said it would closely monitor performance and “would not hesitate to intervene” if required.
“Our plan for passengers will ensure that Britain has a world-class railway that creates opportunity for people and businesses,” a spokesman said.
Network Rail claims the privatisation of British Rail, which saw the track and services passed to private companies from 1994-97, has seen performance improve and a doubling in passenger numbers.
The state-owned company, which has been responsible for maintaining infrastructure since 2004, said reliability across all train lines in the country was better today than under British Rail, though precise comparisons were impossible due to a lack of data. While today the public performance measure (PPM) is recorded for all lines, neither Railtrack nor British Rail kept such detailed statistics.
A Network Rail spokesman claimed British Rail’s “best punctuality was in the high 80s” compared with today’s PPM score of 91.2pc.
The spokesman said: “UK passenger growth has been double that on European railways such as Germany or France – we are also Europe’s safest railway.”
The week ahead
Are our railway services as bad as many people seem to think they are? Does the region experience a better or worse service than other parts of the country?
Who is to blame when things go wrong? Why does travelling by train appear to be so expensive? What hope can we have that things will improve in the future? writes David Powles, investigations editor.
These are just some of the questions we intend to look at over the next week as part of our special series investigating the region’s railways.
Having a good quality train service matters to so many people. Despite the regularity in which we access the service, there appears to be a common perception it is not up to scratch and lacking in quality. Over the next few days it is that perception we intend to put to the test.
With a new franchise looming, the next few years will be key to ensure the region enjoys a service that is fit for purpose. Hopefully our findings can provide the next operator with some early action points to work on. We would love you to get involved by taking part in the survey on our website.
Tomorrow: Abellio and Network Rail explain the challenges affecting the service.