Who is to blame when trains in Suffolk and Essex are late?
- Credit: Archant
We’ve all been there, you have somewhere to be and instead you are sitting on a train, going nowhere, fast.
Many will probably curse the operator of the train they are on. The digitally minded may take to social media to express their frustration.
There are in fact several Twitter accounts in existence with the sole aim of highlighting people’s moans at the region’s main train operator – Abellio Greater Anglia.
But figures uncovered as part of our series on the trains suggest many people may be aiming their frustrations in the wrong place.
For the year up to September 19, figures show that 62% of delays on all Greater Anglia services are in fact classed as the fault of Network Rail. For mainline services between Norwich and London in 2014/15 this rises to 69%, against a national average of 59%.
Reasons include infrastructure problems, overrunning works, but also factors they have little control over, such as poor weather and fatality incidents.
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Another growing problem relates to freight trains used on lines that cannot cope, often because they are on single sections of track.
Nearly a quarter of delays (24%) on the Ipswich to Felixstowe line were caused by “other operators”, with 900,000 shipping containers transported to the Port of Felixstowe using that line in 2014 alone.
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Although the figures have improved slightly in the past month, Network Rail’s performance in this region was worse than many other parts of the country.
But today, the state-owned company, which has responsibility for renewing and maintaining the nation’s rail network, defended its performance, highlighting the major challenges posed by the region having the “most extensively used” route in the country.
A spokesman for the company described the mainline as having “never been busier than it is today”, with more than 31 million passenger journeys every year.
To cope with demand, it said it was investing around £170m this year between London and Norwich “to give passengers a more reliable and consistent service”.
“We know how important this essential rail artery is to the region and will continue to work closely with Abellio Greater Anglia to do all we can to improve performance,” the spokesman said.
The offer of infrastructure investment will be welcome news to rail users, but the company will need to deliver the goods to turn around a performance which has regularly come under fire.
A June Office of Rail and Road (ORR) Network Rail Monitor report said Network Rail was “not improving train performance as much as predicted” and had “fallen short” of its own targets.
Though Network Rail was said to have achieved a “relatively successful” period of infrastructure enhancement in early 2014, the ORR said this worsened, with the company missing 30 out of 84 planned objectives.
It found on average Network Rail was responsible for 42 of the top 50 passenger affecting incidents per period during 2014-15, and highlighted a 2% decline in the proportion of passengers satisfied with their journey.
In its response, the company said it had been working since January to resolve potential track problems on local services by renewing ballast on the mainline in Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk. Further work is scheduled for next October with the laying of more than 80km of new track along the line.
Its report, Delivering a better railway for a better Britain, highlights new methods to detect when maintenance work is required, using “real-time, accurate data” to move from a “find and fix” approach to one of “predict and prevent”.
Teams have also been working for the past year to improve the reliability of signalling at Liverpool Street station.
Network Rail said reliability was a key factor in ensuring good performance as failures took the line out of service until repairs were completed.
Major projects for network enhancements are determined through Network Rail’s Long Term Planning Process, which takes views from train operating companies, passengers and stakeholders.
The draft of the latest plan includes proposals for improvements on the Bury St Edmunds and Felixstowe lines, increased line speeds to at least 110mph between Shenfield and Norwich, as well as changes at Witham.
It stressed, however, this was only an outline of proposals to meet capacity across the network, which would eventually be decided by the Government.
Network Rail says it has invested £39bn over the past five years in improving Britain’s railways, as part of the “biggest investment in train travel since the Victorian era”.
It has a further £38bn of spending planned for the next five years.
Funding for Network Rail’s work comes from the Department for Transport, which paid it a £3.9bn grant for 2014/15. It also receives grants from train companies and commercial properties.
Any improvements will come despite being set a target to reduce its spending by 20% over the next five years on top of the 15% cuts it had already achieved in the last five years.
Britain’s rail service is ranked the best for safety in Europe – despite a small increase in the number of fatalities on the network last year.
The latest rail safety figures show that no deaths occurred in train accidents in 2014/15 for the eighth successive year – the longest sustained period on record.
There were, however, 39 people fatally injured in other types of accidents, including deaths at stations, level crossings and trespassers on the line – two up on the previous year.
The Rail Safety and Standards Board, which produces the figures, also recorded 293 suicides on the network, which was up 15 on 2013/14, and the highest rate on record.
Events on the network classed as “potentially high risk”, such as train collisions, trains striking road vehicles and derailments, had decreased from 32 to 25 in the latest year.
However, another measure of safety, the number of “signals passed at danger” – when a train passes a stop signal without authority – increased by 4% to 299. Network Rail said increasing traffic volumes may be a factor behind this rise.
Crime on the region’s train network has fallen overall. However, some stations have seen a rise.
British Transport Police figures show that, for the UK, crime is reported to have been cut by 40% since 2003/4, with an 82% reduction in robbery and 52% in theft.
Norwich, which saw the most reported incidents out of Norfolk and Suffolk, recorded a fall in crimes in the station from 83 in 2013/14 to 66 in 2014/15, while those reported during journeys also fell from 46 to 37. The most crimes in the region were recorded in Colchester, which saw station offences increase from 73 to 104 over the last year, while those committed on the train rose from 34 to 43. Ipswich station also saw an increase from 46 to 49 in the station and from 18 to 24 on trains.
A Passenger Focus survey in 2013 showed 76% of passengers rated their security as “good” or “very good” in autumn 2013 compared with 68% in 2008-09.
•What do you think of train services in the region? Take our survey online.