Network Rail announced the last 4 weeks punctuality figures recently, and noted that 574,856 passenger trains were operated in total, which is actually 8,733 less than a comparable period (September) 1947. And that was with steam trains!
The 1947 figures were actually published in Hansard in response to a question from an MP during a debate in the weeks following the assent given to the Transport Act 1947. Royal Assent was given to the bill on 6th August 1947.
The ‘Big Four’ railways had been subsidised by the Government during the war, and whilst controversy continued in the post war era about compensation for the companies’ shareholders, one or two of the companies were almost bankrupt by 1939. Their operational performance had suffered badly due to equipment in appalling sites of repair, and ongoing minimal maintenance – it’s a wonder that by 1947, they were able to run trains at all.
A comparison of some punctuality and performance figures with those recently published by Network Rail is fascinating. We may have a lot more data, and more analysis of those figures, but little perhaps by way of improvement.
This is what Network Rail published about Period 8 in 2017:
Network Rail’s figures also announced a change from the way punctuality is measured, and no longer uses PPM, where trains arriving up to 10 minutes late are deemed to be ‘on time’. This current measure states that 83.9% of trains were therefore on time in the 4 weeks between 15th October and 11th November 2017.
In 1947, in the 4 weeks ended on 6th September, 541,434 trains arrived either on time, or up to 10 minutes late – using the same criteria as Network Rail today. So what does that mean? In % terms, just 2 years after the end of World War 2, the soon to be nationalised railways managed to get 93% of trains to arrive on time!!
Original source of this data is a written response from Mr James Callaghan(MP for Cardiff South) the Parliamentary Secretary for the Transport Minister (Alfred Barnes), to Mr Joseph Sparks (MP for Acton), and recorded in Hansard at HC Deb 03 November 1947 vol 443 c154W .
More interesting still perhaps is that in 1947 whilst only 63% of main line / express services arrived on time, or no more than 10 minutes late, on local services no less than 94% of all trains arrived on time, or up to 10 minutes late.
Why would that be?
Almost all main line / express services were steam hauled, and the majority of local services, with commuter services on 3rd rail dc electrified lines.
Yes, I know the timetabling and scheduling was designed with steam era point to point acceleration and timings in place – but you have to admit the results are impressive given post war shortages of fuel and rationing.