Monday, 1 July 2013

Why Is Your Train Late?

You hear the stories about how the trains run on time on the continent or in Japan and so on, but why can't they run on time here in the UK? Simple really. There aren't as many trains in the way on these other rail networks.

We have commuter trains sharing the mainline tracks with intercity trains, meaning a tiny delay on a service that calls at all the intermediate stations along a mainline can have a massive effect on the fast trains running behind it.

Take the West Coast Main Line. You might be aware that most of the time there are three trains per hour running to Manchester Piccadilly from London Euston. Two of these trains go via Stoke, with the other one taking a different route via Crewe. The reason for this is not just for a diversification of the services to Manchester, but to avoid the "stopper" train from Stoke to Manchester that runs once an hour (and the same in the opposite direction). The slow train will leave Stoke shortly after a cross-country train leaves for Manchester on the same line so that it has enough time to complete its journey before the next London train comes through.

One of the fast trains that runs through Stoke is scheduled to get there around 5 minutes after a slow train that takes in some of the stations south of Stoke and then heads off to Crewe on a branch north of the station. That train has to take the branch before the fast train can leave Stoke station in order that it's out of the way. If it's late for some reason then the fast train will also be delayed.

This is just one set of examples along a relatively small stretch of line. Similar problems exist along many parts of the rail network in the UK. The problem is simply capacity. It's not always viable to add another pair of tracks to a mainline section simply for the once or twice a month that a train on that particular section of track is held up by another, and some trains simply have to be in front of others, otherwise they hold up another train, and so on.

Patronage on the railways is also rising every year. With petrol prices going through the roof, parking charges heading in the same direction, and congestion charging in London with perhaps new schemes in other major towns and cities, it's hardly a surprise. The bus is unreliable and slow, particularly when commuting from outside the cities, or between two large towns, and the trains tend to take you right into the centre of the conurbation, avoiding the traffic jams.

We need more capacity, not just for commuter services but for intercity services too. The only way we're going to do that is to build more lines. The tram system in Manchester is being extended by using the routes of old lines cut by Beaching. In London, Crossrail will add much needed extra capacity to an already bursting passenger network.

Just one question. Are you still against HS2?