Southern Rail has long held an important title on the rail network: it is the proud operator of the least punctual train in Britain. It emerged in January that Southern Rail's 7.29am train from Brighton to London Victoria had impressively managed to be late every single day for a year. In 2014 on all the 240 times it ran, the train pulled in late. Now the company has come up with a brilliant solution.
The bright sparks at Southern finally worked out how to hit the target: they moved the goalposts. The Metro reported that yesterday the train arrived two minutes early - thanks to the fact that they had changed the timetable and allowed an extra three minutes for the run from Brighton to London. They also removed one of the stops.
Southern has defended its record for this train in the past by pointing out that it runs at peak time on a congested line, and there are lots of other services that affect the train. If any one of them is delayed, it has a knock-on effect on the 7.29. Southern's commercial director, Alex Foulds, told the BBC: "We do have days when the timetable works very well but they are far and few between because they rely on everything working perfectly and all the infrastructure working well and that does not happen every day. We are trying to put together a timetable that we think people can rely on."
Trains have been gradually getting more reliable, but suffered some setbacks this year. Figures from the Office of Rail and Road show that 78.3% of trains arrived within five minutes of their scheduled time in the past 12 months - down 2.4% from a year earlier.
Southern ran a fifth of its trains late, and during busy times, a shocking 37.4% of its trains were more than five minutes late. The regulator highlighted that it had the worst arrival scores out of all the train franchises for three of the last five quarters. So it seems as though a bit more timetable tinkering could be in order.
The only silver lining is that at least customers who are delayed frequently should get some of their money back in future. The government is trialing a scheme which means train companies have to issue compensation if trains are two minutes late. The longer the delay, the more compensation people will get - so that if a train is between 30 minutes and an hour late they will get a 50% refund (any longer than this and the full fare is refundable). And where rail users use automatic payments, the cash back will be automatic too. If the trial is a success it could be rolled out across the country, which will finally mean some good news for Southern Rail customers.
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