Is It Time To Be On Time?
21 October 2016

Is It Time To Be On Time?

Although British rail services are statistically punctual, the day-to-day reality of passengers is quite different. Network Rail reports that the Public Performance Measure (PPM), which shows the percentage of trains which arrive at their terminating station on time, is 87.4%. However, there is a catch: the definition of punctuality is very lenient when compared to other countries.

A train is defined as on time if it arrives at the destination within five minutes (i.e. 4 minutes 59 seconds or less) of the planned arrival time for London and South East or regional services, or 10 minutes (i.e. 9 minutes 59 seconds or less) for long distance services.

Looking closer at the statistics, only 60% of British trains arrive on time, and some train operators arrive on time in less than 50% of their trips. In contrast, the Japanese Shinkansen (bullet train) has an average delay of only 0.6 minutes. That’s 36 seconds for a train that travels at 300km/h on distances over 500km. When trains are delayed for as little as five minutes, the conductor makes an announcement apologising for the delay and the railway company may provide a “delay certificate”, as no one would expect a train to be this late. The same happens in Germany, where the PPM is 94.8% in a punctuality definition of 6 minutes.

Nonetheless, the situation at home seems to be about to change. The rail minister Paul Maynard has announced that from October 2016, new rules will apply to delay compensations, initially being introduced on some services. Known as ‘Delay Repay 15’, some of the major changes to rail compensation are:

  • Passengers will be able to claim for a delay over 15 minutes - currently it has to be at least 30 minutes:
    • Passengers will be able to claim 25% of a single fare on trains delayed between 15 and 29 minutes and 50% of a single fare on trains delayed between 30 and 59 minutes.
    • A full refund will be given on single fares on a train delayed between 1 hour and 1 hour 59 minutes
    • A full refund of the total ticket cost will be offered if the service is more than two hours late
  • Compensation will be paid in the same way that the passenger paid for their ticket, if they wish, rather than rail vouchers
  • Commuters will be able to claim for ticket losses caused by missed connections

It is hoped that this will push operators to improve their services in order to avoid financial losses in compensations. In addition, smaller and less frequent delays can improve the reliability of trains and avoid the ripple effects that cause major delays and cancellations, which also results in more capacity.

Furthermore, one can argue that this policy also incentivises the modernisation of infrastructure and investment in technology. Improved signalling and digital communications can enhance the punctuality of services because, in such a complex network, every second is important. It means extra seats for those who currently have to stand, and a peaceful journey for those who usually miss their connections.

Because when it comes to money in the railways, each minute is precious.

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