Rail users and politicians call for action after Abellio Greater Anglia’s Norwich to London service is revealed as the region’s poorest performing
- Credit: Archant
Commuters, passenger groups and MPs have thrown down the gauntlet to the region’s train bosses after an investigation revealed details of areas in which the service continues to perform poorly.
Starting today, our week-long series on rail in the region highlights several key areas where passengers experience problems.
-The continued under-performance of the Norwich to London service
-How Network Rail is classed as being responsible for a large proportion of problems in this region
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This comes at a key time for the region’s train services, with three companies vying to run the Greater Anglia franchise for nine years from October next year.
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer described the performance as “completely unacceptable”, but welcomed the requirement that the successful bidder invests in new trains and provides faster services to London.
He added: “We now can be certain of significant improvements to our rolling stock within the next five years, but that leaves us to complete the other half of the equation, which is track.
“It is clear that there is still much for Network Rail to do.” Day one of our investigation shows how the region’s busiest train line, the Norwich to London service, is also its poorest performing.
According to a Freedom of Information response from Network Rail, the Great Eastern Mainline (GEML), which also serves Stowmarket, Ipswich, Manningtree and Colchester, performed significantly worse than the national average - and all other local services - in terms of punctuality and cancellations in 2014/15.
Overall, Abellio’s public performance measure (PPM) – the proportion of commuting trains arriving at the terminating station within five minutes of their scheduled time - was the fifth worst of 23 UK train operators in 2014/15, at just 86.3%. This compared to a national average of 88%. But the GEML’s PPM was 83.7%, while the Ipswich to Felixstowe and East Suffolk lines were 85.2% and 84.2% respectively.
All six of the local lines we sought figures for have seen their performance worsen since 2012, the year Abellio took over the franchise.
But our figures suggest Abellio is often powerless to resolve the cause of service problems. Network Rail was classed as being responsible for 69% of delays on the GEML last year, significantly higher than the national average of 59%. More than a third (34%) of delays were due to infrastructure problems, whereas 18% were caused by other factors such as overrunning works. Abellio was responsible for 25%.
Network Rail, which maintains the network and Abellio, which runs the services, insist the line “compares well” considering its “extremely” high usage and have pledged to work together to improve performance further. They highlighted the latest PPM figures for Greater Anglia, 91.4%, as evidence of improvements.
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We are investing around £170m this year on the line between London and Norwich to give passengers a more reliable and consistent service.”
Network Rail also publishes a range of other performance measures under which the Norwich to Suffolk line falls even further adrift.
Barely a third of trains on the GEML arrived within a minute of their scheduled time. The proportion of trains on the service cancelled or significantly delayed was also higher than the national average.
Derek Monnery, chairman of the Manningtree Rail User Group and the Essex Rail User Group, said: “We’ve been the neglected line for far too long. Infrastructure is poor, it’s run to capacity, all the rail stock is poor and there’s no alternative.”
New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Mark Pendlington said: “Reliability is paramount. We are keeping up the momentum so that we see the year-on-year transformation of all routes to meet the demands of our 21st century economy.”
The Sudbury branch line was the region’s best performing in 2014/15, with a PPM of 94.6%.
The Department for Transport
Government transport chiefs have acknowledged performance has been “disappointing at times” though they expect improvements during the next franchise.
The Department for Transport said it was setting “stretching targets” that are aimed at cutting down on delays and cancellations.
Its new franchise agreement, announced last month, requires the next operator to provide “Norwich in 90” and “Ipswich in 60” services twice daily in both directions. There are also requirements for better carriages, additional services and free onboard wi-fi for all passengers.
The DfT said it would closely monitor performance and “would not hesitate to intervene” if required.
“Our plan for passengers will ensure that Britain has a world-class railway that creates opportunity for people and businesses,” the spokesman said.
Abellio Greater Anglia’s reaction
“We share the aspiration of our customers to see further improvement in train service performance. We work closely at all times with Network Rail in jointly monitoring network issues and their effect on train service performance in aiming to deliver better and more consistent punctuality. “We’re investing £35.5 million in the current short franchise to improve our train fleet, performance, and customer service.
“This includes the investment we’re making in upgrading our Intercity trains with this programme well underway in providing more reliable and comfortable carriages. We are also investing in improvements to some of our electric train fleet using the Great Eastern Mainline.
“We are continuing to work in partnership with Network Rail and regional stakeholders in advance of the long franchise contract for the Greater Anglia network due to commence in October 2016. Abellio Greater Anglia has been at the forefront of the Great Eastern Mainline Taskforce in building a positive case for the significant investment and improvements to help bring about the major enhancements to infrastructure and rolling stock for the East Anglia region that we all wish to see.”
Network Rail says performance has improved since privatisation
Network Rail claims the privatisation of British Rail, which saw the track and services passed to private companies from 1994-97, has seen performance improve and a doubling in passenger numbers.
The state owned company, which has been responsible for maintaining infrastructure since 2004, said reliability across all train lines in the country was better today than under British Rail, though precise comparisons were impossible due to a lack of data. While today the public performance measure (PPM) is recorded for all lines, neither Railtrack, nor British Rail kept such detailed statistics.
A Network Rail spokesman claimed British Rail’s “best punctuality was in the high 80s” compared with today’s PPM score of 91.2%.
“UK passenger growth has been double that on European railways such as Germany or France – we are also Europe’s safest railway,” the spokesman added.
The week ahead
Are our railway services as bad as many people seem to think they are? Does the region experience a better or worse service than other parts of the country?
Who is to blame when things go wrong? Why does travelling by train appear to be so expensive? Writes David Powles, Investigations Editor.
These are some of the questions we will look at as part of our special series investigating the region’s railways. Having a good quality train service matters to so many people. Despite the regularity in which we access the service, there appears to be a common perception it is not up to scratch and lacking in quality. Over the next few days it is that perception we intend to put to the test.
We’d love you to get involved by taking part in the survey on our website.
Tomorrow: Abellio and Network Rail explain the challenges affecting the service,