One year on: Greater Anglia ‘on the right tracks’
- Credit: Bill Smith - Archant
East Anglia's biggest train operator says it is on the right track after its first year in charge – but has pledged to continue improving until passengers get the service they deserve.
Greater Anglia, which runs the majority of trains in the region, was the only operator in the country to record improved satisfaction levels over the past year in a national passenger survey published yesterday, yet remained among the lowest-rated overall.
And despite improving ratings in a range of key areas since spring 2012 – including punctuality, value for money and station facilities – a bad winter saw its rating slip from the high point of last autumn.
Passenger groups and MPs in the east have praised the progress made under Greater Anglia since it took over on February 5 last year, but called for further and faster improvements to give passengers and businesses the train services the region needs.
The company itself has released its own assessment of its performance in running the East Anglia franchise, up to March 31 this year, and says a record proportion of trains are running on time, weekend engineering disruption has been reduced and many stations have been refurbished.
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In spring 2012, Greater Anglia recorded the worst satisfaction levels in the UK in a survey from the traveller group Passenger Focus, with just 73pc of passengers rating the service as up to scratch.
The figure rose to 83pc in autumn 2012 but slipped back to 77pc in the spring figures released by Passenger Focus yesterday, which traditionally fall slightly below the autumn levels because of winter weather delays.
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There were six-month drops in punctuality (down 9pc), room for passengers (down 7pc) and satisfaction in station surroundings (down 4pc) – though they did not drop to depths of 12 months ago.
In an introduction to the Greater Anglia Annual report to Customers, managing director Ruud Haket said: 'We have made good progress in improving the customer experience with some real steps forward in punctuality, customer service and communication. We recognise, however, that there is much more to do.
'We are determined to raise service standards further, by continuing to improve and invest in the service we offer our passengers.'
Jonathan Denby, Greater Anglia's head of corporate affairs, said the cold winter and snow had contributed to the drop in figures, but that the operator was determined to continue the upward trend.
He said modifying trains to improve reliability and working with Network Rail had improved performance.
Negotiations with Network Rail meant that engineering works which had previously disrupted mainline services for an average of 30 weekends a year would be completed over just seven weekends in 2013.
The rolling annual average punctuality figure is now 92.3pc, up from 90.9pc in March 2012, and a record high for the franchise area.
'That's a big step forward, but clearly we have to keep that up and improve it further,' said Mr Denby, adding that recent months had improved the figures further.
Station renovations, train cleaning and carriage refurbishments have also improved conditions for passengers without the large-scale rolling-stock investment unsuitable for a short-term franchise.
But Mr Denby said the operator would be looking into the reasons for a 17pc drop in satisfaction in how it handles delays, despite having invested in Twitter feeds, staff Blackberries and a text service to keep passengers as informed as possible.
'That's an area where we are not scoring as highly as we would hope, and we need to look at the survey in detail to find out what is behind it – whether it is customers not getting the messages quickly enough, or in the right way,' he said.
Greater Anglia hopes to soon finalise a deal to extend its franchise to October 2016, and Mr Denby said the operator would continue to push for the infrastructure upgrades outlined in the rail prospectus published with MPs last year.
Linda McCord, of Passenger Focus, said Greater Anglia's results since taking over the franchise, and the feedback were encouraging.
'By and large we are hearing that passengers are satisfied,' she said. 'They have only got the franchise for a short time, and there was never going to be any chance of high level infrastructure or capacity.
'Value for money is still a key issue – not just cost, but punctuality, reliability and getting a seat. But they are not always great at telling us as passengers what is going on... There's still room for improvement.'
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, one of the MPs who backed the rail prospectus last year, said Greater Anglia had made strides in its first year.
'I think they have tried very hard and had some success. Passengers in Norwich will certainly recognise that efforts have been made coming into the station, such as the cycle hire scheme. But passengers can still often be frustrated by delays and traditional problems on the line to London, on which we all want to see great improvements to attract more investment into our region.'
Peter Lawrence, the Norfolk-based national vice-president of Railfuture, agreed Greater Anglia had had 'a decent 12 months'.
But he added: 'As far as the national picture is concerned, East Anglia is not getting its fair share of investment at the moment.'
First Capital Connect, which runs trains between King's Lynn and London, saw its overall satisfaction rating fall by 5pc points from autumn 2012, to 76pc; East Midlands Trains, which operates services from Norwich to Liverpool, saw satisfaction dip from 90pc to 88pc in the same six-month period.
Do you agree with the findings of Greater Anglia's annual report? Email firstname.lastname@example.org