04 February 2011

A little more massage...

The revelation that East Coast had massaged its train performance has angered some other train operators. Even when East Coast went public with special timetables during the snow and ice in December it did so to make the timetable robust. This seems to suggest that the operation of a special timetable was operationally-led rather than customer-led.

Yes, snow and ice does have a major impact on running long-distance, high speed train. Snow is thrown un up and sticks under the train. This then forms into packed ice which at high speed then falls off and can either bounce under the train with the potential to cause damage under the train, or can be thrown up the side of the train damaging the outer skins of windows. The packed ice also has to be melted and removed on depots at night to allow safety inspections to take place each night on depots.

In contrast to East Coast, Virgin Trains took the decision to continue to operate its normal timetable. Yes, there were delays but as a senior Virgin Trains manager told LEYTR, "For our passengers the fact that they had confidence that their train would run was more important than performance. We served all destinations throughout the two periods of bad weather and during December out of more that 4000 trains book to run we operated around 94.5%. Performance was just under 66%."

The VT man added: "over half of our passengers make reservations before travel, so to alter the timetable also causes massive inconvenience. There are also many thousands of passengers who travel by rail just once a year and can be really confused with by timetable changes and disruption".

This is true though. Imagine booking an Advance train ticket where the advertised departure is the only one one which travel is permitted for the low price paid and assuming sufficient time is built into your connection at King's Cross or Leeds only to find that your service is running 28 minutes late, that you've either missed or likely to miss your connection on which you must travel, and yet East Coast provide another punctual journey.

If we had the time, m'colleague and I would happily sift through arrival and departure times for Newark or Grantham stations on one specific date and apply the 'window of tolerance' scheduled bus and coach operators have to abide by. It would be very telling indeed.

To end, it's worth pointing out that despite a reduced timetable to make operations more robust, East Coast performance in December was worse than that recorded by opposing Anglo-Scottish operator Virgin Trains.

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