Greater Anglia train operator of the year award branded ‘insult to passengers’
- Credit: Sonya Brown
A prestigious industry award that has seen Greater Anglia named 'train operator of the year' has been branded an 'insult to passengers' following a litany of problems to hit its services.
The company, which holds the franchise to run the majority of rail services in Norfolk and Suffolk, was praised as the UK's top operator at the Rail Business Awards.
Greater Anglia scooped the award, at a glitzy awards ceremony at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London on Thursday, February 27.
The award is given to 'the UK passenger or freight train operator demonstrating overall business excellence and providing outstanding customer service'.
Praising the company, the awards, which are run by Rail Gazette, said: "Greater Anglia had an excellent year in 2018-19, continuing to innovate while preparing for the arrival of its new trains.
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"The judges commended it for launching the Norwich in 90 service with existing stock whilst also improving regional and commuter services."
The award comes less than two months after passengers were hit with dozens of delays and cancellations as Greater Anglia's rural services were plagued with signalling errors and train faults in December.
MORE: Passengers hit out at week of train delays - but end is now in sight, says Greater AngliaAt least 80 services were cancelled for several days running, with Greater Anglia blamed signal failures caused by problems with the track circuits, made worse by autumn weather.
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Services from Norwich to Cambridge and Sheringham, as well as between Ipswich and Lowestoft, Felixstowe and Peterborough were all severely disrupted.
There has also been a string of problems with the introduction of its new £1.4 billion fleet of electric Stadler trains that have added to misery for passengers.
Greater Anglia said the award covered 12 months that had seen it carry out a number of improvements, including introducing the Norwich in 90 service, improving its delay repay compensation scheme to include all delays of 15 minutes and over, starting to introduce new trains, plus new ticketing initiatives, car park expansion and installing Automatic Number Plate Recognition at 20 car parks across the network.
It said there had also made real progress in improving punctuality, which resulted in over 35,000 more trains arriving on time in 2019 compared to 2018.
Jamie Burles, Greater Anglia managing director, said: "To be named train operator of the year is a tremendous accolade and a credit to the hard work and determination of everyone in our team, across the whole of Greater Anglia, to make our service much better for our customers.
"We've replaced all the trains on our rural routes with high quality, state-of-the-art new trains, with more seats and a much better travelling environment which, as they bed in, are starting to improve our reliability, as well as our customers' on-board experiences.
"We have also begun to bring in new intercity trains on the main line between Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester and London.
"We recognise, of course, that last year ended on a difficult note on our rural lines due to signalling issues and that punctuality is not consistently where we want it to be so far this year. We're sorry for those occasions when we have let people down and we are determined to get performance back on track as soon as possible."
The award has been met with incredulity on social media from passengers who saw fares increase by 2.6pc on January 2.
One tweeted: "Anyone who travels regularly on Greater Anglia knows only too well what an absolute shambles the last year has been."
Another added: "Proof positive that industry awards are back-slapping affairs that operate in a parallel universe."
MORE: 'Teething issues' over new Greater Anglia trains could not have been predicted, director insistsDavid Welch, convener of campaign group NOR4NOR, which wants to nationalise the railways, said: "It's a real insult to passengers. I expect most will be shocked and exasperated by such an award.
"We have seen so many problems with the new stock being introduced and the number of cancellations is probably the highest in the company's history this past year.
"This can only suggest that all the other operators are so appallingly bad that they make Greater Anglia look good. It just shows how far the bar has dropped really."