Train Delays

I must have done something wrong in my previous life because for the last 15 years or, so I have been (it feels like I have been condemned) to travel to work by train. Firstly, it was from Solihull and now from Wokingham to London. My local train from Earley (which comes from Waterloo) to Reading arrives on time no more than 8 to 9 times a year. Approximately 60 per cent of the trains to London are late getting into Reading. However, coming home the trains do leave Paddington on time and get to Reading more or less on time – I can’t complain about my journey back.

I live about 30 miles from London. My trains going to work are invariably late, I often don’t get a seat, and the cost for the national rail ticket is more than £4000. I will no doubt start dreaming “We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to your journey!!”.

Nearly one in three trains across Britain are late, and delays on some routes affect more than half of journeys.  So why are trains delayed? The reasons seem to be because the infrastructure like track, signals, tunnels, overhead lines, trains etc., have been poorly invested in and that has resulted in worn out trains running on crumbling infrastructure. Although the rail companies are modernising and buying some new trains it doesn’t seem to be well managed and often results in further delays.

The rail companies have not managed their timetables well. Undoubtedly, trains that are delayed are queued to make sure they don’t disrupt other trains behind them. Since privatisation there has been at least a 20 per cent increase in passengers and more trains means less room for manoeuvre with the timetable when things go wrong. The public outcry is that the rail service is getting worse.  I remember British Rail (BR), and I understand why Labour would want to nationalise the rail service, a popular policy, but I hesitantly say, for those who don’t remember BR, we are, now, a lot better off without BR.

Considering we are where we are, the rail companies have at last started to invest more but for the price, commuters pay for the service it is far from providing value for money. Passengers are paying too much for rail tickets, and the rail companies are taking too large a dividend considering the quality of their service.

Responding to Chris Grayling’s address to Tory party conference, Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Baroness Jenny Randerson said:

“It’s no wonder that Chris Grayling became nervous as he outlined the state of our railways, many of the problems with the network are his fault and his time in post is running out of track.

“Grayling promises a rail revolution and new legislation next year to improve our struggling railways. However, he’s happy for passengers to face massive fare hikes while he gets his house in order.

“The Liberal Democrats are calling for an immediate freeze on all fares, while the Government investigates the problems they’ve caused with our railways.”

For the money, we pay for our tickets we should push for a better service but nationalising it is not the answer.

* Tahir Maher is the Wednesday editor and a member of the LDV editorial team

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38 Comments

  • Come and live on the West Coast Main line, cannot grumble about the Virgin service. Commutting daily from say Stafford to Euston, 136 miles in 75 or so minutes. Normally no problems. More trains, more seats, more passengers, faster trains than nationalisation days. What more could you want. We will always moan about the fares, whatever they are.

  • Richard Easter 3rd Oct '18 - 1:23pm

    Rail privatisation is not fit for purpose. Mass fragmentation and outsourcing, the franchise system so broken that most are held by a slew of foreign governments including the Communist Chinese, newer trains which are less comfortable and often shorter than the ones they replaced, bullying civil servants with conflicts of interests (Peter Wilkinson) and excessive micromanaging (which did not occur in BR) and passengers (with awful service and extortionate fares) and staff (destaffed stations, removal of guards and legal liability for welfare on train and stations forced onto drivers) facing the brunt of it. All overseen by a hard right ideologue Grayling.

    It is beyond pathetic. Nationalise now.

  • nvelope2003 3rd Oct '18 - 1:28pm

    The timetables are devised by Network Rail not the train companies. Increases in fares have recently been about 3% annually. If running trains was such a profitable activity why is it that only one tender was received for the most recent retendering exercise which was cancelled, and only 2 for the supposedly most profitable franchise the South Western from Waterloo ? The East Coast was considered profitable but the successful tenderer overestimated the profits and paid too much for it .

    You are right that the infrastrucure is in a poor state but it is still owned and operated by the Government so they have to take the blame for its deficiencies and the train companies have been subject to excessive government interference recently unlike before when they were operating successfully and increased passenger numbers from 750 million to 1.7 billion – a bit more than 20%

  • Interesting that in the latest opinion poll (BPG) in June, 64% wanted to renationalise the railways, 19% would oppose this, and 17% were don’t knows.

    Also interesting that the East Coast main line thrived in between three privatised franchise failures.

  • chris moore 3rd Oct '18 - 3:05pm

    Hi Tahir,

    in fact passenger numbers and journeys have more than doubled since privatisation just over twenty years ago.

    This is, of course, positive, environmentally and for road congetston, but has itself created numerous problems, not least of which is over-crowding on many rail services.

    Nationalisation is not the answer; the opinión polls David refer to show that the public has forgotten how God-awful and utterly complacent British Rail was.

    Possible long-term – and unpopular – solutions are charging a correct economic price for road and petrol use and using the tax revenue raised to fund transport infra-structure expenditure . ((Increasing the price of driving would also push more users onto the rails.) )

  • nvelope2003 3rd Oct '18 - 3:28pm

    David Raw: If the East Coast line was thriving why were the private operators unable to afford the premiums that the DfT had pressured them to offer ? Does Tesco have to pay a premium to run its shops ? I wonder if Mike Ashley will be able to make House of Fraser profitable. I hope so and sacking the old management with all their historic baggage might help but even the best management cannot perform miracles. Nationalised Network Rail certainly needs some fresh thinking but will never get it as long as it gets a £4 billion annual subsidy and the private companies have little chance of improving things when the minister has to approve every timetable with no knowledge of the actual operating conditions as he admits.

    I am not surprised that 64% want the railways nationalised because of all the sensationalised stories in the press and online. As rail travel only accounts for about 10% of all travel it seems a bit unkind of those who do not use trains to inflict another dose of BR on those who actually do use them. A woman told me the Southern trains were always late but I use them and they are rarely late. This was confirmed by other people who use them. The problem with these stories is that it discourages people from using trains as evidenced by the usual 6 passengers per carriage on an 8 coach train when I travel compared to full loads on the LO service although the latter is actually provided by a private company without any acknowledgement on the train. Southern might care to copy that practice. Of course we would not hear this stuff if the passengers were not tired of doing the same journey to their unpleasant jobs every day in order to pay the bills for things they do not really want but feel obliged to buy to maintain their image.
    Maybe we should have referendum on whether the taxpayers should have to pay other people’s fares ?

  • nvelope2003 3rd Oct '18 - 3:38pm

    Jenny Barnes: Apart from off peak and some rural routes public transport cannot cope with more people without huge investment in trains, extra tracks and signalling. Many people need to travel by road to do their work not just to get to their place of work. Plumbers, builders, and other tradesmen/women need their vans and cars to work.
    However, all is not lost. I hear that the bus company in Taunton is having to bring in extra buses and drivers to cope with the unprecedented demand this autumn.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Oct '18 - 5:14pm

    If you want to travel from London to Newcastle, or Edinburgh, or Aberdeen would it be nice to have a high speed train service? soon? or is air travel really preferable, including waiting around at an airport before take off?

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 3rd Oct '18 - 5:38pm

    I suppose what I was getting to was for the fares we pay on the trains are they value for money. Personally, I don’t think so

  • Jonathan Pile 3rd Oct '18 - 6:49pm

    Trains in the North have been a disaster since the timetabling chaos. It has always been a nightmare getting across the Pennines, slow and unreliable. I can get to London on the High Speed Train in less than 2 hours but it takes more to reach Media City in Salford from Wakefield. The Grayling Rail Review should look at the Fare Rises, Cancellations and the cost cutting which has led to Strikes. The root of all of this is the 21% cut in Rail Company Subsidy since 2012, which has been caused by the £4bn needed for HS2, which is going to rise to £100bn up from an initial £20bn.
    The business case for HS2 has failed, it needs to be scrapped and the money put into Transport for the North and regional rail

  • We have no choice except to have a unified control of railways. The idea that private companies could try to build and operate their own railways was tried and failed in the nineteenth century. The idea of bus companies building and operating their own roads would not work either. We cannot run a modern country on the basis of largely undefined ideas of capitalism or socialism is merely silly.
    I joined the Liberal Party in 1959 because there were emerging ideas which actually analysed problems and sort real world solutions. This gave us a basis for the NHS for example.
    However we do not appear to have a Party now which is prepared to advocate a genuine participative democracy.
    When we face the fact that it is impossible to separate how we run railways from an overall vision on transport in the country, which in turn is related to a vision for preserving what is left of our environment – particularly the air we all breathe – then we will not even begin to solve anything.´

  • Yeovil Yokel 4th Oct '18 - 10:21am

    The best-run railways in the world are in Continental Europe and Japan – how do they do it? Is there a middle way between a privatised and nationalised system for the UK?

  • nvelope2003 4th Oct '18 - 10:36am

    Tom Harney: But private companies did build and operate their own railways in the 19th century, not just in Britain but in France, the US etc and there was no need for bus companies to build their own roads because they already existed, although the better ones – the turnpike trusts – were maintained by private companies until the private railways took their passengers and goods away.
    Railways cost a huge amount of money to operate because they need their own very expensive to maintain track and signalling. Attempts to reduce the cost were partly the cause of the recent timetable problems. Aeroplanes do not need thousands of miles of expensive metal track so that is why they are cheaper on long runs.
    Although at present we can turn up at a railway station a few minutes before the train departs this is not always so on the high speed trains abroad where it is necessary to go through extensive security checks which I suspect will be required on HS2. You have to have baggage and other checks if you use the Eurostar trains to Paris and Brussels etc. I think it would be better value for money if it was spent on improving the existing network as the few very long runs are not really appropriate for trains. However different ways of working have caused a reduction in commuting partly brought on by the recent regular strikes so there will not be such a need for more track, signalling and trains with their requirement for more staff. This could bring the cost of operating the railways down and of course there is a lot of scope for automatic operation of trains and even buses.
    Traditionally those who work on the railways from the management to the operating staff have always been paid much more than those who work in the much more demanding road transport sector. Probably for reasons of snobbery. If you prefer fancy trains I guess you cannot complain when you get the bill.

  • It’s a funny thing that the economic liberal opponents of rail nationalisation on here don’t seem to be able to get their heads round the fact that most of our ‘privatised’ rail franchises are run by nationalised railways – in Germany, France and the Netherlands – and they export the profits that they make here.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Oct '18 - 4:18pm

    Liberals should realise that very few services or industries or service industries, call them any r each or all, are natural monopolies. We like state health services and education, neither are nor in most countries, should they be, monopolies, a range of providers from cottage hospital to private clinic,faith school to private tutor, added to the state provision or integrated in a state run social market. More of this is active Liberal and social democratic policy in most countries.

    Rail and water alone are monopolies, you can get energy from elsewhere, and every other utility.

    It is very Liberal and democratic to nationalise the railways and water.

    It could happen as contracts expire. Whether it is worth it is the thing, not whether it is Liberalism, it is, and as supported, it is democracy social or otherwise.

  • There is no need for me to try to answer nvelope2003 as we do not disagree about the history of railway construction in the time of the railway mania. We were left without a sensible railway system, and in the end there was a clear need for government intervention. Just as there is in roads, a public good for the public.
    However I have not experienced the searches on high speed trains in Europe. This year I have travelled on them in Belgium, Germany, without searches. The controls in Spain
    were nothing like the Eurostar. The problems for this are purely due to the U.K. government. I can sympathise with the problems which would be caused by having to have controls in stations such as Liverpool, Manchester, Crewe etc. Of course England is run for London, so no one will give finding the solution a priority. Let’s have through trains from Liverpool to Brussels as we were promised.

  • It might interest the historians out there that the proponent of orthodox economic liberalism, H.H. Asquith, advocated the nationalisation of the railways in 1922 according to the late Professor Stephen Koss in what I believe to be the best biography of Squiff.

  • Innocent Bystander 4th Oct '18 - 4:49pm

    Privatisation was supposed to bring the power of competition for us consumers, but only GWR stop at my station so what choice do I get anyway?

  • Katerina Porter 4th Oct ’18 – 3:36pm……………..British Rail, of which I have good memories, suffered because different governments were very reluctant to invest , the theory was that the car was now dominant. Driving became impossibly crowded hence probably the increase of railway passengers. And now taxpayers invest far more money than we did in BR days and what we have now is frustrating and complicated. A single nationalised body with adequate investment might well be better…………….

    Hear, hear! I too have good memories of BR. I wonder how many moaning actually commuted in the old days. I commuted between Bournemouth and Southampton for 5 years; very few problems. In the 1980s my wife commuted from Chelmsford to London; very few problems.
    As for trains; if you missed one you just got on the next. Likewise, if you missed a connection.

    Anyone believing that the anything like the ongoing rail chaos occurred during BR days is mistaken…

  • Alex Macfie 4th Oct '18 - 7:07pm

    nvelope2003: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s only in Spain that the high-speed trains have baggage checks (a knee-jerk response to the 2004 terror attack). Most Spanish mainline trains, not just the high-speed ones, require advance-booking and compulsory seat reservations. The same is true for French TGV trains (but there are no baggage checks on most of them). The two things are not related, it’s just that Spanish and many French and Italian trains operate a different ticketing philosophy to UK trains. In this country, a walk-up train ticket entitles the carrier simply to passage between the origin and destination stated on the ticket, using any train(s) via any permitted route. Germany uses a similar ticketing philosophy to the UK; although premium fares do apply on the high-speed ICE trains, there’s still no need to reserve a seat on a specific train (nor any baggage checks).
    Eurostar has baggage checks because of the legal requirement, but it uses a compulsory reservation model because it pretends to be an airline, with yield-managed fares and limited integration with other rail services. But I hope that the UK rail system does not adopt such a system, even for HS2. It would make the service useless for most commuters.

  • nvelope2003 5th Oct '18 - 12:00pm

    Alex Macfie: In the most populous country on earth, China, baggage checks are required for all trains, including Metro/Underground services. There is no chaos but of course passengers have to arrive early and booking on long distance mainline trains is essential as standing is not normally permitted. Trains are very long but not as frequent as here which is surprising as passenger numbers are high because of the long distances and lower car ownership.

    Expats: You were lucky to have the then recently electrified Bournemouth – Waterloo line for commuting. Outside the few modernised routes BR was not good. I used the diesel hauled trains from Exeter to Waterloo and they were rarely on time especially after the line west of Salisbury was singled, and often broke down.
    You can still catch the next train if you miss one unless you buy one of the bargain off peak fare tickets which have time restrictions. Some of them are very cheap because they are at times when few people would otherwise travel. BR did have off peak tickets which you could only use at the permitted times.

  • nvelope2003 5th Oct '18 - 12:24pm

    Tom Harney/ David Raw: You are looking at railways in today’s conditions, not when they were built by the private companies. The lines closed by Beeching when most people started to use cars were very useful in the days of the horse drawn carriage or cart. Buses were even better than having to walk 2 miles to the station but with cars you do not even have to walk to the bus stop and obesity is growing.
    The problem with Asquith was that he was very much of his time and despite his great abilities he did not seem to anticipate the changes which were becoming apparent even then with the rise of motorised transport for example. The electorate rejected him and his party. In 1922 the railways were still the dominant mode of transport but this is far from the case now when most travel and haulage is by road, despite the congestion, parking problems etc. People quite happily accept an hour or more delay on roads but scream the place down if a train is 5 minutes late.
    It is generally thought that the privately operated Japanese railways are the best in the world and punctuality is extremely good. China is not so good.

    The Governments of the past cannot be blamed for failing to invest in BR as there seemed to be a continual decline in passenger and freight carryings but with the growth in road traffic congestion something had to be done but instead of modernising the existing system they seem to be only interested in HS2. I just hope they have got it right.

  • Envelop. Au contrair as Dellboy would say.

    Asquith had a motor car and frequently travelled to Walmer Castle in wartime and to the Wharf (his home near Oxford – currently owned by Helena Bonham-Carter I believe) after the war. He was ahead of his time – the railways had to be nationalised after ww2 twenty four years later.

  • nvelope2003 6th Oct '18 - 10:29am

    David Raw: Maybe Asquith, like most wealthy or better of people had a motor car but I do not think that in 1922 many people foresaw the massive growth in car ownership. However road haulage and road passenger transport was developing quickly with many either replacing their horse drawn waggons or starting new haulage firms with army surplus vehicles which took goods past the railway depot straight to the customer.Instead of nationalising an out of date railway system it would have made more sense to help the growing road transport industry by improving the roads which did not happen until the 1950s because most politicians live in the past and are obsessed with yesterday’s problems. No doubt the railways are needed again but they will not be helped by renationalising the little bit that is still in private hands anymore than road transport was helped by governments before.
    What is Labour policy on the privately owned rail freight business ? As it does not have many votes will it be allowed to collapse by renationalisation or by swingeing taxation ? In the US the private rail freight business is very important and profitable. In China it is very unusual to see a freight train on their nationalised system despite the long runs which make rail an economic form of haulage as in the US, but Chinese roads are full of trucks. The EU is full of railways but little freight uses them compared to road haulage despite the Eurotunnel and the long runs becaue the state system is bureaucratic and inefficient although there are plans to liberalise it from 2020, hence the opposition of the RMT to remaining in the EU. Nationalising railways in 1948 almost killed them in the longer term.

  • >The business case for HS2 has failed
    there never was a business case for HS2…

    >instead of modernising the existing system they seem to be only interested in HS2. I just hope they have got it right.
    Given the nature of the beast, I suspect HS2 will in effect be a second ‘Beeching’, there is little appetite in government to invest in the current passenger network, beyond the minimum. It is notable that the investment in the Euston line is more around freight and in ways that significantly reduce its passenger carrying capacity; well before HS2 even gets as far as Birmingham.

    Given the timescales around HS2, it is not even worth considering life after its completion: this is a bit like someone in the 1950’s trying to work out what sort of railway network we need in 2020.

  • nvelope2003 8th Oct '18 - 1:01pm

    Roland: Well that just shows what a pointless thing renationalisation of rail would be. It would lead to line closures and redundancies except for HS2. The previous closures made the system mostly useless for freight. You need plenty of routes for a transport or distribution system to be of much use so almost all freight now goes by road and the loss of coal traffic makes rail virtually redundant except for shipping containers. Rail passengers are falling because of the pointless RMT strikes which continue even where the operator seems to have conceded their demands, no doubt to whip up support for nationalisation though that did not stop strikes when we had it before. There have been strikes on the South Western almost every Saturday for weeks now although many trains still run despite claims that the strike is solid but the times are often different and connections uncertain. These strikes are apparently in response to Government “interference” – please don’t laugh! This Government are hopeless.

  • nvelope2003 9th Oct '18 - 11:10am

    Lorenzo Cherin: Rail is not a monopoly because there are other modes of travel – buses, planes and of course the private car which provide more competition than rail seem able to cope with.
    Innocent bystander: There is competition for the franchises, though because of excessive government constraints few firms are now interested in tendering. Just as well some foreign, highly subsidised firms are still providing some competition !

    The real reason why some want railway nationalisation is because they think they would benefit from increased subsidies which would have to be paid for by those who rarely, if ever use trains but seem unable to visualise a better more user friendly system. I am sure the civil service would love to have even more control than they do now but that would make things even worse.

  • Innocent Bystander 9th Oct '18 - 11:37am

    “There is competition for the franchises”

    Ah! the touching naivety of it. Makes me cry. You clearly have no knowledge of how the ‘game’ is played behind those closed doors. You still have the quintessentially British certainty that our nation is not like others and that WE would never have corruption in public life.

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Oct '18 - 12:00pm

    Innocent Bystander 9th Oct ’18 – 11:37am
    You say to nvelope2003 “You clearly have no knowledge of how the ‘game’ is played behind those closed doors.” I wonder, do you have any actual knowledge you can share with the rest of us? Or are you just drawing on that common sort of free-floating cynicism that allows one to assume every game is rigged if one dislikes the outcome?

  • Innocent Bystander 9th Oct '18 - 12:22pm

    Malcolm,
    Just as a glimpse, study the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority case involving the award of the (huge = £7Bn) Magnox clean up contract. I think you, as a taxpayer, were hit for £100M as one of the losers protested.
    The judges findings included these words (amongst many others)

    ” By the word “fudging”, I mean choosing an outcome, and manipulating the evaluation to reach that outcome.”

    But check it all out. But with a suspicious eye, and you might see a glimpse of what goes on.
    No one suffered any consequences at all, of course.

    I chose this one, (because of the court case), it came into the public domain. Of course, most don’t.
    I can’t reveal any others, because I might get sued.

  • You say to nvelope2003 “You clearly have no knowledge of how the ‘game’ is played behind those closed doors.” I wonder, do you have any actual knowledge you can share with the rest of us?

    There was an excellent piece of TV investigative journalist a year or so back that followed the attempt of a group of commuters to bid for a franchise and revealed the rigged rules set by the government that effectively barred them from bidding.

  • nvelope2003 10th Oct '18 - 3:31pm

    (Not so) Innocent Bystander: And I went on to say “though because of excessive government constraints”. You do not need to cry as I have spent a good deal of my life dealing with this sort of thing though to be fair where the rules are too strictly complied with it can result in unsuitable contractors being appointed simply because they put in the lowest price but there again an unsuitable contractor was recently engaged on the basis of promised service improvements which have not been carried out. I understand though that “renegotiations” are being carried out !

    Roland: Those constraints again apply ! Running railways is not quite as easy as running the village Post Office but I did not see the programme. However, I have seen the effects of people taking on more than they bargained for, such as services ending without any notice which I do not think a reputable and experienced contractor would do if they wanted to stay in the “game”

  • nvelope2003 10th Oct '18 - 3:44pm

    People who think the state knows best should have seen the Channel 4 programme on Monday about the (in)activities of the police who were unwilling to take any action despite detailed evidence of crimes involving substantial losses being presented to them. They did not even bother to visit the victim. They claimed shortage of funds but I know of similar cases in the past when there were no shortages of anything Only extreme pressure seems to produce results unless you are a politician.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Oct '18 - 4:11pm

    Roland,
    Quite so. The NDA case is very enlightening because so few procurements are ever legally challenged as the contractors daren’t (as they would be blacked on the next one).
    But there were only ever going to be three NDA contracts (all huge) – Dounreay, Sellafield and Magnox and as Magnox was the last one, one of the losers took the NDA to court and this whole sorry tale is in the public domain.

  • Innocent Bystander: Stagecoach South West Trains challenged the D f T when they lost the SWT franchise although their view was rejected. There was a lot of concern locally about this as SWT were doing a good job. Because a process is not always correctly followed does not mean it should be abandoned. There needs to be reform to ensure it works in the public interest.

    Whatever they say people do not like Government run institutions, especially when they fail to meet their needs like BR which forced people to get their own private cars and the police whose customers are forced to employ private security firms despite having been paid to do the job.
    Unfortunately democratic solutions no longer work because most people do not have the time or inclination to attend meetings which are often dominated by people who like the sound of their own voice. Parliament is an obvious example of this sadly.

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