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Every second counts – new measures of train punctuality

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Train operators and Network Rail are set to publish new measures for train punctuality as part of plans to reduce delays across the network and boost customer satisfaction. From April, up to the minute train performance data will be used as the primary method for measuring punctuality.

The rail industry began recording the on-time measure in 2017 and around 90 per cent of all stations in Britain have technology that accurately records the time that a train arrives. Work is ongoing to increase this to all stations. 

This means that trains will now be measured as to whether they are: early, within a minute of the timetabled arrival, late, very late or have been cancelled, to the minute, at each stop.

Operators and Network Rail are already using the data to pinpoint issues that cause delays and improve punctuality, including at the country’s busiest railway stations.

The current punctuality measure, known as the Public Performance Measure (PPM), considers a train to be ‘on time’ if it reaches its final destination within five or 10 minutes for short distance and long-distance services, respectively. New ‘on time’ measures will now be published alongside PPM, which will still be published by rail companies every four weeks.

For the first time, performance information for specific journeys can also be viewed on the industry-funded ‘My Train Journey’ website. This will give passengers the power to see the punctuality and reliability of every train in Britain on a smartphone, tablet or computer, revealing how that train performed in the last week, month or any period up to one year.

They can also look up historic real-time information from a national rail database, to compare the performance of different trains and routes such as the percentage of journeys when an early morning service arrived on time or early, and how many times it was more than 15 minutes late or cancelled.

The range of measures are expected to create a way of tracking train punctuality that better matches the real experience of customers in different markets.

Network Rail’s performance will be monitored using these on time measures during CP6 but franchises will continue to be monitored against the measures in their existing contracts. The new measures are expected to be used in future franchise commitments.

King’s Cross station as passengers wait for news on delayed trains.


Announcing the change, industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said the measures, which will see data published nationally, by train operator and by journey, are the most transparent of all major railways in Europe.

Chief executive Paul Plummer added: “Every second matters to us and our customers, which is why rail companies have together developed and are now using these to-the-minute measures for train punctuality at every station part of our plan to improve the railway today.

“Record investment to upgrade the railway, including the roll out of thousands of new carriages, will continue to help improve journeys over the coming years and, in the shorter term, we’re using a more transparent measure of punctuality to help us cut delays and reduce disruption.” 

Anthony Smith, the chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, described the change as “a positive step for passengers”.

“Passengers want a reliable, on-time train service. How that performance is measured and reported should, our research shows, mirror passengers’ real-life experience to help build passenger trust,” he added.

“Train timetables need to be a work of fact, not fiction. So, it is good to see train operators reporting true, on-time performance to the minute at every station.”

Co-ordinated campaign

The introduction of the new measure is part of a co-ordinated programme of work led by the National Task Force – a cross industry group of operations leaders, and the RDG board of rail industry CEOs – to improve performance across the network now and in the long term. This includes: 

Using shared best practice to improve performance and analysis of challenges causing poor performance. Teams have also been established to prevent suicides on the network and stop people trespassing on to the railway;

Preparing for and improving co-ordinated responses to changes in seasonal weather, including autumn leaf fall, snow and high temperatures. Each train operator and Network Rail route developed plans to improve preparations for Autumn 2018, helping to ensure more trains were able to run between October and mid-December – the equivalent of an additional days’ worth of trains ran, approximately 23,000 services, compared to 2017;

Supporting the new cross-industry timetabling task force to ensure that the roll out of 6,400 additional services by the early 2020s goes smoothly. As announced earlier in March, over 1,000 extra train services are being introduced across the network in May 2019 and hundreds of rail planners and engineers have been working hard over many months to implement these improvements effectively.

How Britain’s measure of train punctuality compares to European counterparts

France: SNCF services are deemed punctual if they arrive within six minutes. There are exceptions for high-speed TGV services, where the definition of a delayed service varies depending on the length of journey, however, there are no delays attributed for delays less than six minutes;

Germany: A short-distance service is deemed punctual if it arrives within six minutes. Long-distance services are deemed punctual with a delay within 16 minutes;

Italy: Punctuality is measured with a lateness threshold above or equal to five minutes;

Spain: A service is defined as punctual if it arrives within five minutes.

Information courtesy of the RDG.

According to ORR data covering the period between 2017-18, Hull Trains recorded the smallest percentage of trains arriving at recorded station stops on time (within 59 seconds) at 38.8 per cent. C2C recorded the highest at 83.5 per cent.

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