Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:
"Rail passengers pay handsomely to travel on trains (£5.1 billion in fares in 2006-07) and yet, through incidents on the network, are still suffering expensive delays (£1 billion in lost time in 2006-07). Performance has returned to the levels that existed before the 2000 Hatfield derailment, but increasing congestion on the network means that the consequences of an incident in terms of disruption are magnified.
"Passengers are rightly angered when their train comes to a halt for a lengthy period and nobody in the train crew can give them any information. Even if the driver or guard doesn't know what is going on, an announcement to that effect is reassuring. The extent to which the train companies are abiding by official guidance on communicating to passengers should be monitored.
"Communications are also a problem both within Network Rail - between the incident site and control room - and between the emergency services and Network Rail. The fire and rescue services often do not know whom to contact and can take decisions without knowing what the effect will be on passengers elsewhere.
"This is not the best way to manage rail incidents to minimize disruption on the network. At the very least the emergency services should always know whom to phone."
Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 53rd Report of this Session which examined how the rail industry, led by the Department for Transport (the Department) and Network Rail, manages incidents on the rail network, and how passengers are treated when delays occur.
During 2006-07, over 1.2 billion passenger journeys were made in Great Britain on services that arrived on time almost nine times out of ten. The railways are used by an increasingly large number of people, resulting in a more congested network and greater disruption when problems occur. Performance has only just returned to the levels that existed before the Hatfield derailment of October 2000. However, these improvements in performance have come at a significant cost to the taxpayer. During 2006-07, the Department provided £3.4 billion to Network Rail and £1.7 billion to Train Operating Companies. Passengers paid some £5.1 billion in fares, and the National Audit Office has estimated that delays cost them £1 billion in terms of lost time.
The rail industry is complex. Incidents on the network are managed more effectively if the operators have suitable contingency plans and all the parties involved communicate effectively. This includes staff from Network Rail and Train Operating Companies, as well as staff at different locations, from the incident site to the control centre. New integrated control centres are helping staff to make decisions more quickly and in the interests of passengers. But there is a need to improve the relationships between the rail industry and third parties, such as the emergency services and coroners. Network Rail should also make more use of their incident review process to identify and disseminate good practice and scope for improvement.
Passengers are still unhappy with the information they receive when they are delayed and the rail industry has acknowledged that communication is a crucial area for improvement. The Association of Train Operating Companies has produced a good practice guide to help operators provide more useful information to passengers more quickly. Passengers are not always informed of their rights to compensation when they are delayed. The Department does not monitor whether Train Operating Companies are publicising their compensation arrangements, nor does it monitor how much compensation each Train Operating Company pays to passengers. There is, therefore, a risk that passengers are not claiming the compensation to which they are entitled.