UK has least reliable year for rail travel since records began

Britain’s trains have had their least reliable year since records began, data has revealed, as it emerged that only a fifth of services will operate on Thursday and Saturday due to the latest rail strikes.

The figures show that 3.6% of planned trains were cancelled or part-cancelled in the 12 months to 23 July, according to analysis of Office of Rail and Road data by PA Media. The news agency said it was the highest proportion in records dating back to 2015.

The disruption includes repeated strikes, severe weather conditions and Covid-related staff absences. Cancellations have surged in recent weeks after strike action over jobs, pay and conditions.

Avanti West Coast cancelled 16.2% of its services in the latest four-week period between 26 June and 23 July. That is the highest figure in any recorded period for the west coast franchise, which runs trains between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.

Avanti has come under fire for drastically reducing its timetable, with Labour saying it should be stripped of its contract if services are not restored.

Avanti has said it is facing staff shortages caused by drivers engaging in an “unofficial strike”, with a sharp decline in the number who are voluntarily working on their rest days for extra pay.

But the drivers’ union Aslef says this is “disingenuous” and blames the company for failing to employ enough drivers.

Other operators that had their highest cancellation scores on record in the four weeks to 23 July include CrossCountry (10.3%), LNER (7.4%) and Merseyrail (5.5%).

The scores reflect the number of full and part cancellations as a proportion of planned trains. Each part-cancellation counts for 0.5 of the total used to calculate the percentages, PA said.

Trains were cancelled in February because of Storm Eunice, while last month’s heatwave brought services to a standstill.

The report comes as Network Rail urged passengers to travel by train only if absolutely necessary during strikes on Thursday and Saturday this week.

Thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) and Unite at Network Rail, plus staff from 14 train companies, will join the strike.

Network Rail said just 20% of services would run and only half of lines would be open. Many parts of Britain will have no trains, including most of Scotland and Wales.

There will be knock-on disruption on days after the strikes, with service levels at only 70% on Friday and 85% on Sunday.

The Network Rail chief executive, Andrew Haines, said: “It saddens me that we are again having to ask passengers to stay away from the railway for two days this week due to unnecessary strike action, when we should be helping them enjoy their summers.

“We’ll run as many services as we can on Thursday and Saturday, but it will only be around a fifth of the usual timetable, so please only travel if absolutely necessary, and if you must travel, plan ahead and check when your last train will be.”

The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, has said previously: “The rail industry and the government need to understand that this dispute will not simply vanish. They need to get serious about providing an offer on pay which helps deal with the cost of living crisis, job security for our members, and provides good conditions at work.”

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