Commuters still face late trains

EAST Anglian rail users are facing misery on the platforms with one in four commuter trains running late, official figures have revealed. A total of 80.

EAST Anglian rail users are facing misery on the platforms with one in four commuter trains running late, official figures have revealed.

A total of 80.5% of trains were on time in January-March 2003, compared with 80.9% in the same time period last year, the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) study said.

Train operators Anglia Railways and First Great Eastern experienced mixed fortunes in the study which was released yesterday.

Anglia, which runs services from Norwich to London, saw just 75.9% of its long-distance trains arrive on time – compared to 82.3% last year.

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But it fared better in the regional ranks, with 87.6% trains running on time, up on last year's figure of 85.4%.

First Great Eastern, which provides services between Ipswich and London, was one of the top-performing operators in the country.

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The study showed that 87.8% of its trains were on time in the first three months of 2003, although the figures dropped from 91.3% last year.

Over the same period, Anglia received 443 complaints per 100,000 passenger journeys, while First Great Eastern took 49.

Peter Meades, a spokesman for Anglia Railways, said that while the figures were not to the standard they would like, there was still reason for optimism.

He explained: "Looking at the figures for long-distance operators, we actually had the second best punctuality rate among the inner-city operators for the period.

"Obviously, that's still not to the level that we'd like to achieve, but it is a significant improvement on the previous quarter, which was 71.8%.

"Overall, the trend is still that Anglia Railways is one of the best among the UK's long-distance operators."

Of the regional figures, he added: "A score of 87.6% is the best which we have scored for some time, and demonstrates that generally we provide a pretty reliable service to our passengers."

Mr Meades explained that the main cause of delay is 'infrastructure failure' - problems with basic equipment which is vital to the smooth running of the Anglia Rail service.

"Where we do have some continued problems is in the day to day equipment failure of things like signals, crossings and points," he added.

"That's where we want to see Network Rail focusing and making improvements and certainly we are working with them very closely to achieve that.

"There are some grounds for optimism in these figures, but there is still more to do. We are not complacent - work needs to be done to improve the figures, and we are continuing to work hard at doing that."

The eastern region did fare well in comparison to other operators – the worst performing company nationally was Virgin Cross Country, with just 67.8% of its long distance trains arriving on time.

Derek Langslow, chairman of the East of England Rail Passenger's Committee, said: "The overall picture in the East of England is better than the national picture.

"First Great Eastern's record these days is very good, and I think they are close to being as good as they can get, given the amount of things which can hit punctuality, but are out of their control.

"The Anglia figures remain very good locally, but they are disappointing for the long distance category. They are simply not good enough, and I think there are two problems.

"The first is infrastructure issues, and the second and more important point is that they are using locomotives which are too old - they fail too much, and are just not fast enough.

"We would like to see the Anglia fleet updated, because it would make a big difference to their performance - we estimate as much as five per cent.

"Overall, things look quite good and one has to put the anger in context - the operators are beginning to do something about it."

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling admitted yesterday that the figures were 'disappointing', but said that he was optimistic about the future – although he warned fares may have to rise to fund the necessary improvements.

But last night, as weary commuters arrived back at Ipswich Station on the 19.07 train from London – which was 11 minutes late – there was anger at the rail system.

Amy Ross, 29, who travels from her Woodbridge home to London every day, said: "I would say that one in every five trains is late. It doesn't affect me too much at the moment, but it is still not good enough.

"If fares went up, I guess I would pay more because I'd be forced to – but I wouldn't like it at all."

First Great Eastern were unavailable for comment.

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