UK train cancellations: 2022 the worst year on record as 250,000 services hit by problems

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Office of Rail and Road reports declining punctuality alongside rising cancellations as Labour demands end to 'spiral of decline'

2022 was the worst on record for train cancellations, according to the latest official figures. 

Data from the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) showed that more than 250,000 services were fully or partly cancelled between April 2022 and March 2023 and punctuality was down, with more than one in eight of all services reaching their final destination late. 

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The latest figures come against the backdrop of more than six months of train strikes and just weeks after troubled operator TransPennine Express was brought under government control. Labour accused the government of overseeing a “spiral of decline” while the Department for Transport (DfT) tried to put the blame on rail operators and unions. 

The ORR data shows that, between April 2022 and March 2023, 3.8% of all planned services were cancelled, including full and partial cancellations. With 6.6 million planned trains over the last 12 months, that equates to 250,800 fully or partly cancelled trains. 

The cancellation figure is the worst since the ORR began collating data in 2015 and continues a pattern of rising disruption which has seen the “cancellation score” rise from 1.9% in 2014-15, only dropping during the pandemic in 2020-21. 

Punctuality also dropped by 3.4 percentage points compared with the previous year, with just 86.3% of trains reaching their final destination within 10 minutes of the scheduled time. 

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According to the ORR figures, train operators were to blame for the majority of cancellations - responsible for between 48% and 52% of all cancellations across each quarter - with infrastructure management, network issues and other external factors to blame for the rest. 

Avanti West Coast cancelled the most trains in the last year - dropping 9.1% of all planned services - just ahead of TransPennine Express which officially cancelled 6.6% of trains, and CrossCountry, which cancelled 6.5%. Greater Anglia had the lowest cancellation score, at 1.5%, and was one of just two operators to improve its performance, along with Caledonian Sleeper. 

The ORR said that in the last year 450,000 fewer trains ran due to strike action  (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)The ORR said that in the last year 450,000 fewer trains ran due to strike action  (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The ORR said that in the last year 450,000 fewer trains ran due to strike action (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

However, the ORR noted that 10 operators had used the P-code system to “pre-cancel” trains before the 10pm daily cut-off, meaning they may not appear in the operator’s cancellations scores. Taking P-coding into account for the first three months of 2023, the ORR reports that TransPennine Express was found to be the worst performing operator, with an adjusted cancellation score of 21.7% compared with an official figure of 7.3%.

Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Louise Haigh MP, said that the system for holding failing firms to account had become a “lottery” and vowed to bring the entire rail network under national control under a Labour government.  She said: “The state of our railways is shocking, and passengers are desperate for change across the network. But the government has given up on reforming our railways even as they continue to fail passengers across the country. 

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“The next Labour government will reform our railways by bringing operators back into public ownership, bringing track and train together and putting passengers at the heart of the system." 

A DfT spokesperson told NationalWorld: “The Transport Secretary has made clear we will hold train operators to account when they let passengers down.

“We urge unions to call off strikes and let their members vote on the fair pay offers from train companies, enabling much-needed reforms that would help create a reliable railway.”

According to the ORR figures for the first three months of 2023, each strike day saw the number of planned trains reduced by between 50% and 81% compared with a regular day. However, out of eight days of “severe disruption” - where 5% or more of trains were cancelled - only three were on strike days, with problems on the other five days attributed to infrastructure and weather issues.

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