East Anglia: Stepping back in time could improve railways

TRANSPORT chief Justine Greening has revealed she is throwing her weight behind an idea to return to pre-privatisation days with a single rail company for East Anglia.

The region’s commuters were once again hit by a string of delays last month, with more than 10% of trains failing to arrive on time.

But Ms Greening believes bringing track and train operators together again would bring greater efficiency to the railways.

Speaking to the EADT, the Transport Secretary, said: “If you have a franchise where there is really just one or two train operating companies using the track [like in East Anglia], then it is a lot more straightforward to look at what that kind of integrated partnership might look like.”

A section in the Government’s 78-page Command Paper, released last week, lists the potential benefits of “vertical integration” with track and train operators working more closely together.

In East Anglia, new train operator Abellio has decided to share offices with Network Rail to improve working relations but Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman wants it to go a step further with one company running both aspects.

Ms Greening gave her backing for this greater integration as the latest performance report covering the first month of the new Greater Anglia service, showed that 11.2% of trains on the network were more than five minutes late arriving at their destinations. According to the punctuality figures released by Network Rail, 88.2% of trains were on time in the month from February 5 to March 3, one of the worst figures nationally and a 3.6% drop on the 92.4% recorded during the same period last year - when services were run by National Express East Anglia.

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Neil Skinner, chairman of the Manningtree Rail Users’ Group, said: “They had a rough first month because of things that are out of their control, it really was a baptism of fire with the snow that first weekend.”

The average temperature for the first half of February was the lowest since 1991 and up to 15cms fell in parts of the region the night before the new contract began.

Mr Skinner continued: “It is a bit harsh to judge them yet, we need to be a bit more patient. The majority of the problems on this line are caused by infrastructure.”

Vice chairman, Derek Monnery, added: “It takes a long time to change the culture. They are working to change the relationship with Network Rail, they are starting to lay down the law when things don’t work.”

Urging commuters to bare with the operator, he said: “They are very hamstrung by the agreement being so short, but they are making small changes. They are issuing staff with mini computers so they can be kept as up to date as the passengers and putting staff on better training schemes, they are subtle changes but I think they will make a difference.”

Abellio are hoping to secure the long-term contract to run services in East Anglia when the current agreement comes to an end in July 2014.

A spokesman for Greater Anglia said: “Train services in February were affected by the difficult weather conditions and we worked closely with Network Rail to provide the best possible service. Performance has improved over the past three weeks.

“We are also making good progress with our plans to improve customer service across the network. We’re providing more customer service staff and working to improve communication, and the programme to ‘deep-clean’ all of our trains in advance of the Olympics is underway.”