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‘Impossible to rely on’: East Anglia’s trains have just posted their worst ever performance

PUBLISHED: 08:52 08 December 2018 | UPDATED: 15:31 08 December 2018

Jamie Burles, MD of Abellio Greater Anglia said the company is investing huge sums in improving performance.  Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Jamie Burles, MD of Abellio Greater Anglia said the company is investing huge sums in improving performance. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2015

More trains than ever are being delayed or cancelled on East Anglia’s rail network as repeated pledges to improve services fall flat.

Latest figures from regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), show punctuality and reliability on the region’s biggest operator, Greater Anglia, sunk to its lowest levels for July to September since records began in 2004.

Great Northern, which runs the King’s Lynn to London line, also posted its worst ever figures.

Almost one in ten of its trains were cancelled or more than 30 minutes late.

East Midlands Trains, which operates the Norwich to Liverpool service, scored better than Greater Anglia and Great Northern for punctuality and reliability, but its performance also deteriorated over the summer.

Just over 86pc of Greater Anglia trains arrived within five minutes of their scheduled time and annual reliability figures have not improved since the operator took over the network in 2012.

On the mainlines from Norwich to London and Norwich to Cambridge, the news was even worse.

Only 75pc of trains between the city and Cambridge ran on time in the last 12 months.

The percentage of Greater Anglia trains cancelled or significantly late has also gone up every year since 2012 and now stands at 3.8pc.

But the train operator said it was only responsible for 28pc of delays and the majority of problems are down to Network Rail, which looks after the tracks.

Network Rail is upgrading the Norwich-London line and from July to September this year failures with the tracks, points and overhead lines all increased, with the hot weather being blamed.

Greater Anglia managing director Jamie Burles said the summer heat caused problems with tracks and trains, particularly with diesel engines.

But he apologised for the failure to improve punctuality and reliability.

Only 86pc of Greater Anglia trains ran on time (or within five minutes) over the summer. Picture: ANTONY KELLYOnly 86pc of Greater Anglia trains ran on time (or within five minutes) over the summer. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“We are very sorry when we let customers down and that motivates us everyday to make incremental improvements,” he said. “The onus is on us to improve things.”

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, who chairs the Great Eastern Mainline Taskforce, said passengers deserved better.

Greater Anglia is currently testing new trains and a new fleet will be coming from 2019.

Costing £1.4 billion it will mean a faster, more reliable and more comfortable service, Mr Burles said.

The Great Northern line between King's Lynn and London Kings Cross was one of the worst in the country for punctuality and reliability. Picture: Ian BurtThe Great Northern line between King's Lynn and London Kings Cross was one of the worst in the country for punctuality and reliability. Picture: Ian Burt

“East Anglia has never seen this scale of investment in trains,” he added. “It will be the newest and best fleet in the UK.”

He said passengers would be “pretty much guaranteed” a seat with capacity increasing by at least 20pc.

Meanwhile a survey of 800 rail passengers for the EDP reveals widespread dissatisfaction with services and prices across the network.

It showed:

-Around a third of respondents gave East Anglia’s rail network the lowest score for overall service, condition of carriages, reliability and punctuality;

-A quarter gave it the lowest score for speed;

-Passengers said the most urgent improvements needed were for reliability, with too many trains cancelled, followed by punctuality, with too many trains late.

Ticket prices were also a common gripe. “It is cheaper to fly than take a train now. This is crazy,” one said.

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss said she was lobbying the Department for Transport for improvements on the King's Lynn line. Photo: PASouth West Norfolk MP Liz Truss said she was lobbying the Department for Transport for improvements on the King's Lynn line. Photo: PA

Another said she could fly to Cyprus and back from Stansted for the cost of her £80 train ticket from Norwich to Bournemouth.

“Impossible to rely on, constant cancellations causing havoc with trying to be on time to work in Somerleyton,” another passenger wrote.

Figures from the ORR show around 60pc of delays are down to Network Rail and Mr Burles said Greater Anglia was working with Network Rail to improve.

The last day when no service alterations were scheduled on the Greater Anglia network was October 19.

Greater Anglia is upgrading its fleet but its figures for reliability and punctuality rare not improving. Picture: Sonya DuncanGreater Anglia is upgrading its fleet but its figures for reliability and punctuality rare not improving. Picture: Sonya Duncan

The tracks have been free of service changes for just 28 days in 2018.

And South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss and MP Chloe Smith both urged Network Rail to up its performance.

Meliha Duymaz, Network Rail’s route managing director for Anglia, said: “We share passengers’ frustrations when there are delays and cancellations. That’s why we are investing billions of pounds to improve the network to deliver a safe and high performing railway for our customers in the Anglia region.”

Over the last 12 months Network Rail has renewed track at Ipswich, Witham, Colchester and Kelvedon on the Norwich to London line.

On the Wherry lines between Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft the Victorian signal equipment is also being updated, while overhead wiring between Chelmsford and Liverpool Street, which was a major cause of delays in the summer, is being improved.

But all that causes delays and that work is going to continue for years to come.

Network Rail was awarded £2.2 billion last month to improve East England’s network from 2019 to 2024.

The money will be spent on repairing bridges, improving signalling, level crossings and overhead lines.

Abellio Greater Anglia trains and carriages at Crown Point. Photo: Steve AdamsAbellio Greater Anglia trains and carriages at Crown Point. Photo: Steve Adams

But the £2.2 billion does not cover long hoped for work on bottleneck the Ely North Junction and the Trowse Swing Bridge which campaigners want upgraded to make Norwich to London trains faster.

Mr Burles said Norwich to London trains in 90 minutes would still happen next year without the Trowse Swing Bridge being replaced.

A Network Rail spokesman confirmed four daily services would run between London and Norwich in 90 minutes starting in May 2019.

But to get longer term improvements to the Ely North Junction and the Norwich-London line separate pots of cash will have to be secured.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith. Pic: Eliza Boo PhotographyNorwich North MP Chloe Smith. Pic: Eliza Boo Photography

At Ely North, work was meant to start in 2017 but that has been put back by up to seven years to between 2019 and 2024.

Ms Truss said: “Rail users need to know that projects will be delivered, that they have a reliable train service and that capacity will be increased to accommodate demand – regrettably this is not happening as quickly as it should and I am heavily lobbying the Department for Transport on this matter.”

Network Rail said it was in the early stages of developing a programme to improve the Ely North Junction.

But they cautioned: “Additional funding sources and authorisation will need to be secured.”

The Government is also currently undertaking a Rail Review into the future of the network.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the House of Commons in October that privatisation had reversed “decades of decline” under British Rail and “heralded the fastest expansion of our railways since they were built by the Victorians”.

But he said the current network had little margin for error and problems were compounded “because the railway is run by multiple players without clear lines of accountability”.

Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis said his party would take the railways back into public ownership.

Liz Truss MP and George Freeman MP have pressed for improvements at the Ely North junction. Picture: Ian BurtLiz Truss MP and George Freeman MP have pressed for improvements at the Ely North junction. Picture: Ian Burt

“After eight years of promises made and promises continually broken, the time for tinkering at the edges is over,” he said.

“The truth is rail privatisation has been a catastrophic failure, with the taxpayer putting in even more money to the privatised system than when it was nationalised.”

The Government’s direct subsidy of the railways is around £5 billion per year, an increase of over 200pc since privatisation.

Greater Anglia, whose Dutch owners, Abellio, made a profit of 131 million Euros in 2017, makes its money from ticket sales rather than Government subsidy.

Mr Burles said ticket prices would increase in line with inflation.

•What passengers say

Here is what some of the passengers in our survey said:

•“Can’t wait for the new trains on the mainline.”

•“The crew are always polite and helpful and the toilets are usually spotless.”

•“Not enough trains in the middle part of the evening between Norwich and Sheringham.”

•“More trains cancelled than ever, the carriages are poorly maintained and look as if they walked straight out of the 1980s, uncomfortable, slower journeys due to ‘signalling problems’.”

•“Last year I claimed over 25pc of my season ticket back for delays and cancellations. I’m a mainline (Norwich - London) user so I can’t even imagine how bad it is for branchline users.”

•“Getting worse and failing to deliver on promises made on getting the franchise.”•“Too often my plans are ruined by missed connections due to lateness and cancelled trains all for extortionate prices I can just about afford.”

•Great Northern one of country’s worst

Passengers on the King’s Lynn to London line endure one of the least reliable and punctual services in the country.

The ORR figures show 77pc of trains were on time so far this year, while 9pc of all services were either cancelled or more than 30 minutes late.

Chaos hit the line from May this year when ill-fated timetable changes were introduced.

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss said: “I am incredibly frustrated by the service on the King’s Lynn to London line.

“It is not good enough and I have raised my concerns with the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

One regular passenger on the line said only one of his trains had been on time out of nine over six weeks of travel in October and November.

A Great Northern spokesman apologised and said performance was improving since the summer when timetable changes caused havoc.

•Yarmouth line had 4,500 delays

Passengers have been disrupted by almost 4,500 train delays on the line between Norwich and Great Yarmouth since 2015.

Technical fleet delays - a problem with the train which prevents it being able to move - have been the main cause of disruption, figures in a Freedom of Information request to Network Rail reveal.

Oliver Steward, 32, who travels on the Great Yarmouth line said: “The reliability of the trains is awful. They all seem so old and the service is rubbish.”

From the start of 2015 there have been 59,899 services on the Great Yarmouth line with 7.4pc of them being delayed.

A spokesperson for Greater Anglia said it was responsible for 28pc of the delays.

Meliha Duymaz, Network Rail’s route managing director for Anglia said: “We are making a huge investment to improve the service our customers receive on the Wherry Lines.”

New trains are also coming in 2019/20.

•See Monday’s EDP for an interview with the boss of Greater Anglia as to what 2019 holds for the operator.

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