Why are our trains getting worse?
PUBLISHED: 19:23 07 December 2018 | UPDATED: 09:20 09 December 2018
More trains than ever are being delayed or cancelled on East Anglia's rail network as repeated pledges to improve services failed to materialise, the industry watchdog has said.
More trains than ever are being delayed or cancelled on East Anglia’s rail network as repeated pledges to improve services failed to materialise.
Latest figures from regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), show punctuality and reliability on the region’s biggest operator, Greater Anglia, sunk to its lowest levels for July to September since records began in 2004.
One day saw 12,800 minutes of delays and 223 cancellations as a result of a lineside incident near Colchester.
Overhead equipment failures are six times more frequent, points failures are almost three times more and there is a 50% rise in track faults, year-on year for July-September.
Regularly blighted by these problems are commuters from Ipswich, where MP Sandy Martin sees his constituents paying for more and getting less every year.
“Reliability for those travelling on Greater Anglia trains is the worst it has ever been,” said Mr Martin.
“I know that there are various reasons, and one of them is that the trains keep breaking down – the new trains being introduced from May will help deal with that.
“But I cannot see why Ipswich passengers should have to pay 3.1% more in January for a service which is already one of the most expensive in the UK and is currently not performing well.
“I am determined to keep up the pressure for Ipswich to be included in the Network Card area so that travel to London can be more affordable in future.”
Just over 86% of Greater Anglia trains arrived within five minutes of their scheduled time and annual reliability figures have not improved since the operator took over the network in 2012.
Focusing only on the mainline from Norwich to London, the news is even worse.
Only 84% of trains to the capital ran on time in the last 12 months.
The percentage of Greater Anglia trains cancelled or significantly late has also gone up every year since 2012 and now stands at 3.8%.
But the train operator said it was only responsible for 28pc of delays and the majority of problems are down to Network Rail, which looks after the tracks.
Network Rail is upgrading the London line and from July to September this year failures with the tracks, points and overhead lines all increased, with the hot weather being blamed.
Greater Anglia managing director Jamie Burles said the summer heat caused problems with tracks and trains, particularly with diesel engines.
But he apologised for the failure to improve punctuality and reliability.
“We are very sorry when we let customers down and that motivates us everyday to make incremental improvements,” he said. “The onus is on us to improve things.”
Greater Anglia is currently testing new trains and a new fleet will be coming from 2019.
Costing £1.4 billion it will mean a faster, more reliable and more comfortable service, Mr Burles said.
“East Anglia has never seen this scale of investment in trains,” he added. “It will be the newest and best fleet in the UK.”
He said passengers would be “pretty much guaranteed” a seat with capacity increasing by at least 20%.
Figures from the ORR show around 60% of delays are down to Network Rail and Mr Burles said Greater Anglia was working with Network Rail to improve.
The last day when no service alterations were scheduled on the Greater Anglia network was October 19.
The tracks have been free of service changes for just 28 days in 2018.
Meliha Duymaz, Network Rail’s route managing director for Anglia, said: “We share passengers’ frustrations when there are delays and cancellations.
“That’s why we are investing billions of pounds to improve the network to deliver a safe and high performing railway for our customers in the Anglia region.”
Anglia Rail Users Group - a grassroots commuter group - are the passengers voicing those frustrations.
The group have more than 2,000 members on Facebook and attend Greater Anglia board meetings to make sure customers are treated fairly - the ORR figures do not put them at ease.
A spokesman for the group said: “We are extremely disappointed by these statistics.
“They confirm that, despite numerous promises from GA, nothing has improved.
“This news just before the fares are increased is a kick in the teeth to users.
“Where is the money going? We are told 98p of every £1 of fares is reinvested into the railway, but these stats attribute 57% of punctuality to track faults.”
ARUG member James Harrison said: “Next year’s fare increase just rubs salt in the wound. We’ll pay more money for more failures, just like over the past few years.”
Another simply said: “We are an inconvenience.”
Over the last 12 months Network Rail has renewed track at Ipswich, Witham, Colchester and Kelvedon on the London line.
On the Felixstowe line it is installing a 1.4km track loop near Trimley station. It will mean more freight trains can run without disrupting passenger services.
But all that causes delays and that work is going to continue for years to come.
Network Rail was awarded £2.2 billion last month to improve East England’s network from 2019 to 2024.
The money will be spent on repairing bridges, improving signalling, level crossings and overhead lines.
And Mr Burles said trains from Ipswich to London in 60 minutes would still happen.
A Network Rail spokesman confirmed four daily services would run between London and Norwich in 90 minutes starting in May 2019.
But to get longer term improvements separate pots of cash will have to be secured.
The Government is also currently undertaking a Rail Review into the future of the network.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the House of Commons in October that privatisation had reversed “decades of decline” under British Rail and “heralded the fastest expansion of our railways since they were built by the Victorians”.
But he said the current network had little margin for error and problems were compounded “because the railway is run by multiple players without clear lines of accountability”.
“Working with Network Rail Anglia through the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) Taskforce we have helped to secure £2.2 billion to enhance maintenance and renew the railway in the region from 2019-2024, including £350 million to improve signalling,” said Mr Grayling.
“This investment will bring significant improvements to performance and reliability.
“As chairman of the GEML Taskforce, I am working with Network Rail and the government on the long term investment strategy for our line to deliver a high performing railway.”
However other MPs along the Greater Anglia mainline are struggling to see the improvements.
Witham’s Priti Patel said: “These performance figures demonstrate the need for continuous investment and improvements in our railway.
“Network Rail signal failures and overrunning engineering works are too frequent, resulting in passengers suffering delays, inconvenience and a decline in service reliability. Network Rail must continue to do more to limit disruption.”
Therese Coffey, whose Suffolk Coastal constituency covers the line to Lowestoft, said: “While the Beast from the East caused a lot of disruption, clearly the old trains are past their sell by date, which has resulted in considerable fleet failure.
“That’s why I’m pleased that new trains will be here next year for the main and East Suffolk branch lines.”
The Government’s direct subsidy of the railways is around £5 billion per year, an increase of more than 200% since privatisation.
Greater Anglia, whose Dutch owners, Abellio, made a profit of 131 million Euros in 2017, makes its money from ticket sales rather than Government subsidy.
Mr Burles said ticket prices would increase in line with inflation.