Passengers face a ‘crisis’ on railroads as cancellations hit a new high

Passengers face a ‘crisis’ on railroads as cancellations hit a new high

Train reliability across the UK has reached its worst level on record in recent weeks, with Avanti West Coast canceling around one in five services.

An analysis of Office of Rail and Road (ORR) data by the PA news agency showed that the cancellation rate for all operators was 8.0% in the four weeks to January 7th.

That was double the previous four weeks and represents the worst reliability in records going back to April 2014.

Avanti West Coast’s most recent cancellation rate was 18.9%, which is one of the highest ever recorded for an operator.

The Department for Transport (DfT) responded to the figures by saying it was working with railway companies to ensure “new drivers are hired and trained quickly”, but Labor claimed the services were “in a crisis”.

Cancellation results reflect the percentage of services that were either fully or partially canceled, with partial cancellations counted as half full cancellations.

The impact on passengers is even worse, as the statistics do not include which connections were only removed from the timetable at 10 p.m. the previous night.

This controversial process, known as P-coding – which the ORR last week ordered operators to stop using if they cancel services because they don’t have enough staff or trains in the right places – happens before strike days.

However, a rail industry source noted that the latest reliability figures cover a period when operators were badly hit by an overtime ban imposed as part of industrial action, and said there are difficulties in restarting service the day after 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-owned operator Trenitalia (30%) – was given until April 1 by the DfT to improve its services when it was awarded a short-term contract extension in October 2022 .

It slashed its schedule in August last year to reduce last-minute cancellations after a sharp drop in the number of drivers voluntarily working on rest days for extra pay amid industrial relations between Britain’s railways.

When a new timetable was introduced on December 11, there was a huge boost in scheduled services, but poor reliability followed.

Southeastern, whose services were acquired by DfT in October 2021, had its second-worst cancellation rate of 12.2% in the four weeks ended Jan. 7, which was the highest on record.

It was followed by Govia Thameslink Railway, consisting of Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express, and TransPennine Express, both achieving a score of 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 the rapid hiring and training of new drivers.”

Louise Haigh, Labor Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “Thirteen years of Conservative failure have left the country with second-rate infrastructure and rail services in crisis.

“Ministers continue to pay millions in taxpayer-funded performance bonuses to failing operators.

“The conservative response to railroad chaos is more like the same failed status quo.

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

A spokesman for Avanti West Coast said: “We know our customers are not getting the service they deserve and we are sorry.

“Our new timetable, launched in December, has significantly increased the number of connections we operate and customers are seeing the benefits of this, with more seats and more frequent connections.

“Performance is steadily improving and we’re running far more services than we did in the fall.”

A spokesman for Rail Delivery Group, which represents operators, said the coronavirus pandemic has had a long-term impact on services, reducing staff training in 2020 and 2021 and increasing absentee rates.

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

“Apparently, the current nationwide row between three railroad unions has also caused serious disruption to traffic both on strike days and on days on both sides of it.”

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