Train journeys across Britain’s rail network are still neither punctual nor reliable, the industry’s watchdog has warned today.
Quarterly statistics from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) showed 69.2 per cent of passenger trains were on time between July and October, a marginal increase on a period marred by industrial action.
After nearly 18 months of walkouts, RMT and ASLEF union strikes are still keeping cancellations “high,” the ORR said, at 3.5 per cent of passenger services.
The ASLEF union, which represents train drivers, launched a “rolling programme” of strikes throughout this week, affecting operators across the country. Mick Lynch’s RMT last week agreed to a deal, effectively ending their part in strike action until Spring 2024, in a major breakthrough.
Repeatedly subpar performance and higher-than-expected cancellations have been a feature of the industry since the pandemic decimated operators’ finances.
Four railway services have been nationalised by the UK government over the last five years. In May, Transpennine Express, which runs trains in the North of England and parts of Scotland, was stripped of its contract after cancelling around one in six services in March.
Passenger demand across the network has seen a laboured recovery over the last few years, denting rail operator’s bottom lines, while Network Rail has struggled to shake off soaring inflation. In its latest report, the body tumbled to a £1.1bn loss, blaming higher interest payments on its debt as a result of inflation.
Feras Alshaker, Director of Planning and Performance at the ORR, said: “As the independent regulator, the data we are publishing today bears out the reality that passengers in some areas are still experiencing trains not consistently arriving on time, and high levels of cancellations.”
Some respite for the sector will be found in an uptick in performance of Network Rail, after it put in place regional performance plans at the request of the regulator.
In a letter to Network Rail, ORR’s Chief Executive John Larkinson welcomed the initial recovery but pointed out there was much more to do to ensure consistent delivery of train services for passengers and freight across the country.
“While these improvements are promising, they aren’t consistent, and as our analysis shows, the company can do much more to ensure that Britain’s railway provides a reliable and punctual service for all its users,” Alshaker added.
A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “Between July and September this year, the impact of industrial action coupled with staff shortages, Storm Agnes and some failures of rail infrastructure meant that some train companies regrettably had to cancel trains at the last minute.
“The industry is working hard to make the rail network more reliable and has been recruiting and training new staff to improve resilience. As an industry, we’re also trying to improve the reliability of trains so that faults are found quickly and rectified.
A DfT spokesperson said: “We are investing huge sums into rail, roads and local transport across the country, including around £20bn across the North, possible thanks to redirected HS2 funding as part of our Network North plan – benefitting more people in more places, more quickly.”
“Strike action has had a significant impact on services over the past 18 months and with only Aslef remaining on strike, we again urge them to put the fair and reasonable offer – which would take their salary up to £65,000 for a 35-hour, four-day week – to their members.”
“We continue to work closely with operators to ensure they provide the best possible experience for those using our railways and have been clear that we will hold them to account if they let passengers down.”