These are the improvements Greater Anglia’s boss is promising in 2019
PUBLISHED: 06:30 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:30 11 December 2018
Archant Norfolk 2015
Greater Anglia has just posted its worst ever results for punctuality and reliability, but boss Jamie Burles is upbeat.
Speaking on the day figures from its regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), came out showing a record low percentage of trains arrived on time from July to September - and a record high were cancelled - Mr Burles thinks 2019 will be better. A lot better.
Comments from passengers in a survey by this newspaper last week were scathing of the service.
But if the first step to fixing a problem is recognising it, and the second step is finding out what caused it, the ex-healthcare executive is some way down the track to making improvements.
He puts the recent poor performance down to several factors - the hot summer, timetable changes for Great Northern disrupting Greater Anglia services at Cambridge and the huge amount of work Network Rail is doing on the tracks.
“July to September was really difficult for the whole industry,” he said. “The length of the hot spell had a significant impact on the effectiveness of tracks and fleets.”
But he points out Greater Anglia is still performing above the national average for both delays and cancellations.
And despite its ageing fleet, the operator’s intercity trains on the London line are the most reliable in the country, clocking up more miles before developing faults than any other in the UK.
But this summer was not a blip for rising cancellations and delays.
Since Greater Anglia took over the network in 2012, the percentage of trains running on time has remained at a stubborn 88pc.
This summer it was down to 86pc, while cancellations and long delays are going up every year.
Since starting the job in 2014 Mr Burles has weathered a call for his resignation in parliament from an Essex MP, but says he wants to see improvements as much as anyone.
“When things go wrong it is incredible frustrating for customers,” he says. “We feel that too. I travel on four of our trains every day.”
Mr Burles points out Greater Anglia is only responsible for about 28pc of these delays, with Network Rail, the weather and freight trains making up the rest.
Problems with Greater Anglia’s ageing trains account for most of its share of delays and Mr Burles hopes that will decrease massively when a fleet, costing £1.4bn, starts operating next year.
Greater Anglia is now testing the first three of its new Swiss-built trains and hopes to have four up and running by May 2019, in time to deliver the long awaited Norwich in 90 and Ipswich in 60 services to and from London Liverpool Street.
Mr Burles says there is still a lot to do between now and May to make that happen. “There is loads of work to do testing the new trains, but the scale of change is impossible to ignore,” he said.
“We are midway through bringing the best train fleet East Anglia has ever seen.
“Within the next 12 months we will have the newest and best train fleet in the UK.
“It is what all our passengers have been waiting for for a long time. We deserve it as a region.”
The new trains will have air conditioning, power sockets and faster Wifi.
“This is one occasion where the word transformation is valid,” he added.
Most importantly, it should mean far fewer delays from train faults.
He hopes to get punctuality above 90pc with the new trains and by working with Network Rail.
“It will be a constant challenge,” he said. “We are not trying to eat the elephant. We are trying to go step by step.” Another £23m has also been put into making the current fleet more reliable and stop them slipping on leaves and wet tracks.
He also pointed to success at Liverpool Street, where Greater Anglia persuaded Network Rail to put a “crack team” on speeding up the line.
Looking ahead to work Network Rail can do, Mr Burles says he wants a new rail bridge at Trowse - but said it will not stop Norwich in 90 happening.
Since 2011, Greater Anglia’s complaints rate has doubled and its speed in responding to complaints was at its lowest last year since 2013. But Mr Burles says better news for those delayed should be coming in 2019.
Rather than only being able to claim compensation after 30 minutes, passengers will be bale to claim 25pc of the ticket cost if they are delayed for between 15 and 30 minutes.