Sunday, October 12, 2008

Running Trains to Time

Certain European countries have longstanding reputations for railway systems that always run to time. Switzerland is the obvious one, though Germany also springs to mind in the regard.

Talk to anyone who has traveled on German Trains regularly and they will tell you that they achieve their punctuality by way of the simple mechanism of building in lots of spare time to the timetable. This means that if a train has actually traveled between two major stations at its optimum speed, there will usually be wait of several minutes before the journey continues.

A similar system now operates on many of our lines in the UK - London bound South West Trains trains frequently wait at Basingstoke, off-peak, to enable the timetable to catch up. Similarly during a recent journey from Edinburgh to London on a Sunday, there was a fair bit of waiting at major stations.

Chiltern Railways, so far as I can tell, automatically build in an extra three minutes leeway to all their final destination arrival times. That is on top of the magic leaf-fall timetable currently in operation.

I've just spotted the most blatant attempt so far for trying to make sure that a train reaches its destination without being late:

Most long distance Chiltern Railways services from London Marylebone terminate in Birmingham at Birmingham Snow Hill station. It takes about three minutes to travel in a tunnel under Birmingham city centre from the preceding station, Birmingham Moor Street.

There is, as a type, a train running towards Birmingham. It left London Paddington on time (diverted due to engineering works) and is currently running just over 20 minutes late. Trains that are 10 minutes or more late show in red on the National Rail Live Departures boards.

If you look at the current journey board for the train, you will note that rather than being timetabled to take 3 minutes (or six, or nine) between the last two stations on the journey, a total of fourteen minutes have been built into the timetable. It's magic - all of a sudden a 'Red' journey turns into a 'Blue' journey and the bean counters are kept happy.

What a con!

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