No longer will a train that arrives 10 minutes late be classed as “on time”. Britain’s rail firms have agreed to the revolutionary step of counting every delayed train as “late”. 

Short- and long-distance trains are currently considered on time if they arrive at their final destination within five or 10 minutes of schedule. From April 2019, a new benchmark will be used: to be counted as on time, trains must be punctual throughout their journey 

The announcement was made by the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and the infrastructure provider Network Rail. 

The chief executive, Paul Plummer, called it “the most transparent measure for train punctuality of any railway in Europe”.

He said: “For the passengers, businesses and communities that rely on the railway, every minute counts. Rail companies are putting an even greater focus on ensuring that trains are meeting the timetable, arriving to the minute and at stations along a journey.”

The current measure does not look at intermediate stops; if a train operator “pads” its schedule by adding a few minutes on the final leg of the journey, a train may count as “on time” even if it ran late for most of the trip. That will end, with any train that is not on time throughout its journey marked as late.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the Independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers want a reliable, on-time train service. How that performance is measured and reported should, our research shows, closely mirror passengers’ real-life experience otherwise trust will not be built up.

“So, it is good to see the rail industry reporting on time performance at many more stations.”

Mark Smith, a former British Rail manager who runs the international rail website, said: “This has got to be good – what gets measured gets managed, and so forth.  And measuring at key stations rather than only at end points is a definite step forward.”

But he questioned whether the focus on meticulous timekeeping was misplaced: “I can’t help thinking that if a single minute late actually inconveniences anyone, they probably should have caught the previous train! Indeed, I’m not convinced that encouraging public obsession with railway punctuality is always healthy when no such obsession arises with road or air.”

One initial consequence is that rail punctuality will look much worse. Between 28 May and 24 June, for example, while 97 per cent of trains arrived within 10 minutes of schedule, only 65 per cent arrived early or to the minute.

The move is at odds with with airlines, which count as “on time” any arrival up to 15 minutes behind schedule. Which? magazine found that around one quarter of arrivals at UK airports are delayed by more than this, while typically only 2 per cent of trains are more than a quarter-hour late. 

The Rail Delivery Group expects the new system to become one of the official measures of punctuality and reliability for Network Rail from April 2019.

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