Published 18th December 2012
The West Coast Main Line remains in the news despite franchise awards, new, faster, longer and more trains being introduced from December 9.
The ongoing infrastructure failures have to a degree masked the London Midland Drivers’ dispute which entered its 5th month in December.
Meanwhile, Virgin has introduced its longer fleet of Pendolino trains and is running more services from the introduction of the winter timetable. They now offer an hourly service between London and Glasgow, which has never been offered before.
The new timetable has also seen London Midland introducing its 110mph class 350 services which now also avoid Northampton saving up to half an hour between Euston and Trent Valley destinations.
Phil Marsh of rail.co.uk was interviewed as to why a new timetable should solve London Midlands’ problems with drivers. The presenter on BBC Radio Coventry said that over 1000 trains had now been cancelled by the train company since August.
The Prime Minister then commented that London Midland’s performance was not good enough and that they were on his ‘watch list’. But given the other tasks his Department for Transport is carrying out it is not sure what they will or can do to make London Midland improve. One remedy was a few years ago to make offers of cheap travel to compensate suffering passengers.
The performance statistics released by London Midland show that punctuality is now at its worst for two years with trains arriving within five minutes of their booked time in November was 82.6% which had dropped from 86.1% the month before in October.
These figures mask recent achievements though. Only 74.9% of Euston services 77.3% of Birmingham suburban services and 79% of New Street services arrived within five minutes of the timetabled time. The annual average is 83.8%, 84.6% and 87.3% respectively. Snow Hill and Moor Street services scored higher at 88% though.
Last summer the scores were around 92% on average which shows the decline in punctuality and when combined with the cancellations caused by the drivers’ dispute, it is easy to understand why Politicians are watching closely.
Feedback on handling delays show that under 50% of those asked were satisfied with how delays were handled. Staff attitudes on trains scored only just over 60% approval rating so it appears that some improvement is needed in many areas.
But, it must be remembered that Network Rail plays a major part in delays as the overhead wires seem to fail on a regular basis and there are also many points and signal failures combining to hold up services on this route.
Within days of Virgin signing a 23 month deal to carry on running trains and completing the longer train project, they were again on the warpath. They made a public plea to Network Rail to raise performance on the West Coast main line as they are being affected along with London Midland by infrastructure failures.
No sooner than Virgin Trains signed a deal with The DfT to carry on operating the West Coast Franchise in early December, they demanded improvements from Network Rail.
They launched a broadside raising concerns over the lack of progress made in improving infrastructure performance. The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) published its quarterly report on Network Rail performance, Virgin Trains expressed dismay that Network Rail has again fallen short of its performance targets over the last year.
More than 70% of delays to Virgin Trains services are caused by NR’s infrastructure faults and no real improvement has been forthcoming despite the ORR repeatedly calling on Network Rail to improve or face a financial penalty.
This is despite Virgin’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Gibb to work with NR for the past five months to try to bring improvements. Mr Gibb’s report containing 17 recommendations for improvement has been published by the ORR, and NR has promised to implement the recommendations.
Tony Collins, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Trains, said: “We have pressed time and again for improvement and been promised change. Yet still the performance of the West Coast route falls well short of any other part of the railway.
“We need effective and meaningful measurement and action by the regulator to bring about improvement and we will be pressing for this.
“Our customers have shown great loyalty and we owe it to them to demand far better infrastructure performance. We need NR to take full responsibility and make sure that improvements are introduced quickly so that we can deliver the standard of service that customers rightly demand.”
Virgin say they are thrilled to be carrying on running the West Coast Main Line franchise through to 2014 and are now seeking passengers’ input on how to improve services in that time then bid for the franchise in 2014.
Have a think about what you would like to see from 2014 onwards. What could we change or improve? Where should we be running our trains to? What exciting innovations should we have onboard?
We’re open to any suggestions so be as creative as you like, after all your idea might just be the next big thing in the future of train travel!