Lacklustre Performance Continues


There is a lot of waffle in the 21st century surrounding the measurement of train performance and punctuality.   This is what the public see today:

Public Performance Measure” (PPM) – defined as the percentage of  trains arriving at their terminating station within five minutes for commuter services and within 10 minutes for long distance services.”

See: Public Performance Measure

However, ‘on time’ means within five minutes of the scheduled destination arrival time for regional operators, or within ten minutes for long-distance operators”

So, in 2017, with this definition of ‘on time’ it actually means being LATE!

Amongst other ‘odd’ definitions accepted in current performance and punctuality measures is the idea of trains being cancelled whilst still on route.  This is the CaSL definition, perhaps better described as train service failures, and covers:

  • Being cancelled at starting point.
  • Cancelled en route.
  • Change of departure station.
  • Failing to make a scheduled stop at a station.
  • It is significantly late (ie it arrives at its terminating station 30 minutes or more late).

There is a difference between ‘punctuality’ and ‘performance’, where the latter could include intermediate station to station times, or train capacity/loading, on a particular route.  However, today, the performance is described as a combination of punctuality and reliability, but the raft of statistical data available from UK Government sources does not give simple clarity, and it’s not easy to compare with what had been the case in the 1980s say.

In overall terms, train performance and punctuality between 1978 and 1982 on main line/long distance services was definitely not great, but at least the less meaningful phrases such as MAA (Moving Annual Average), or CaSL (Cancellation and Significant Lateness) are not there:

Train Performance 2

In the 1980s, British Rail targets for punctuality of trains was set at 90% of all InterCity trains to arrive within 10 minutes of booked time, before that the target was 85% within 5 minutes of booked time.  More flexibility to allow more late arrivals?  Why?

British Rail was divided into 6 regions until 1982 when the division into business sectors began – InterCity, NetworkSouthEast and Regional Railways for passenger operations, followed later by a similar exercise with freight services.  The principal objective being to try and introduce the then fashionable business management practices into operating and managing the railway.

1990 figures for “InterCity” Sector punctuality:

Train Performance 1

It didn’t improve punctuality directly, but was targeted at reducing the central government support, and ultimately paved the way to privatisation.  Ironically though, by 1987 to 1990, operations of trains on the nationalised railway was making a profit.

Today, we have access to these pieces of information about train performance:

  • The national PPM is 88.9%.
  • This compares to 86.5% for the same period last year.
  • The moving annual average (MAA) is 88.0%.

Source; Network Rail

The closest we get from the simple available and published details is a chart showing the measure of trains arriving within 1 minute of their booked time – the green line is that measurement in this chart:

Performance 2002-17

It does appear that between 2002 and 2010 that measure of within a minute of Right Time (RT MAA in the graph above), was steadily improving, but since 2011 it has continued to decline.  Why is that?


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