Passengers face ‘crisis’ on railways as cancellations hit new record

Passengers face ‘crisis’ on railways as cancellations hit new record

Train reliability in Britain hit the worst level on record in recent weeks, with Avanti West Coast canceling the equivalent of around one in five services.

Analysis of Office of Rail and Highway (ORR) data by the PA news agency found that the cancellation score for all operators for the four weeks to January 7 was 8.0%.

That was double the rate for the previous four weeks and represents the poorest reliability on record dating to April 2014.

Avanti West Coast’s latest cancellation score was 18.9%, one of the highest ever recorded by any operator.

The Department for Transport (DfT) responded to the figures by saying it is working with rail companies to ensure there is “rapid recruitment and training of new drivers”, but Labor claimed services are “in crisis”.

Cancellation scores reflect the percentage of services that were canceled in whole or in part, with partial cancellations counted as half of a total cancellation.

The impact felt by passengers is even worse, since the statistics do not include services withdrawn from schedules until 10:00 p.m. the night before.

This controversial process known as p-coding, which ORR last week ordered operators to stop using when they cut services due to not having enough staff or trains in the right places, is what happens before strike days. .

But a rail industry source noted that the latest reliability figures cover a period when operators were hit hard by an overtime ban introduced as part of an industrial action and said there are difficulties in resuming services on the day after the strikes.

Avanti West Coast operates trains on the West Coast Main Line between London Euston and Glasgow Central with branches to Birmingham, North Wales, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh.

The operator, a joint venture between FirstGroup (70%) and Italian state operator Trenitalia (30%), was given until April 1 from DfT to improve its services when it was granted a short-term contract extension in October 2022. .

It cut its schedule in August last year to reduce short notice cancellations after a sharp decline in the number of drivers voluntarily working on rest days for extra pay, amid labor disputes at Britain’s railways.

There was a big improvement in planned services when a new schedule was introduced on December 11, but this was followed by low reliability.

Southeastern, whose services were taken over by the DfT in October 2021, had the second worst cancellation score for the four weeks to January 7 at 12.2%, which was the highest on record.

It was followed by Govia Thameslink Railway, consisting of the Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express, and the TransPennine Express, which scored 11.9%.

A DfT spokeswoman said: “We are working closely with train operators to ensure disruptions are kept to a minimum and long-term solutions are put in place, including prompt recruitment and training of new drivers.”

Labor Party shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “Thirteen years of Conservative failure have left the country with second-rate infrastructure and rail services in crisis.

“Ministers continue to hand out millions in taxpayer-funded performance bonds to bankrupt operators.

“The conservative response to the chaos on the railways is more of the same failed status quo.

“The next Labor government will end this charade, put passengers back at the center of our rail network and invest in infrastructure fit for the next century.”

An Avanti West Coast spokesperson said: “We know our customers have not received the service they deserve and we are sorry.

“Our new schedule, introduced in December, has significantly increased the number of services we offer and customers are seeing the benefits of that, with more seats and more frequent services.

“Performance is constantly improving and we are running many more services than in the fall.”

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the operators, said the coronavirus pandemic has had a long-term impact on services by reducing staff training in 2020 and 2021 and increasing no-show rates.

He continued: “Unfortunately, these absences often lead to last-minute cancellations, but train operators across the industry have been working tirelessly to recruit and train new staff to improve resilience.

“Obviously, the current national dispute involving three railway unions has also caused a serious disruption of services both on strike days and in the days after the strike.”

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