European Train Punctuality

I have been on holiday again, visiting Corsica.

As a consequence I have been spending a lot of time on European rail services getting there and back. Some punctuality statistics generated in the process are listed below.

As is often requested, punctuality is here listed as “right time means right time”. It is based on my journey (not the train’s, so whether I got to my destination at booked time not whether the train finished its journey when it was supposed to) but is also by individual train leg (so if I did a journey on two trains both of which were 15 minutes late that shows as 30 minutes delay).

Other general explanation:

  • Trains: number of trains used
  • Time spent: time spent on those trains (roughly)
  • Total minutes delay: total number of minutes late that I was deposited at each station where I got off the train (fairly accurately)
  • Minutes per hour: Rough calculation of minutes delay divided by number of hours.
  • Length of hour: Time that trains therefore took on average to cover an hour of timetabled journey.

City Metro trains omitted because they ignore their timetables too much to be assessed.

Britain

  • Trains: 6
  • Time spent: 6 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 7
  • Minutes per hour: 1m 10s
  • Length of hour: 61m

Eurostar

  • Trains: 2
  • Time spent: 5 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 12
  • Minutes per hour: 2m 15s
  • Length of hour: 62m

France (excluding Corsica)

  • Trains: 5
  • Time spent: 9½ hours
  • Total minutes delay: 30
  • Minutes per hour: 3m 10s
  • Length of hour: 63m

Italy

  • Trains: 7
  • Time spent: 10 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 15
  • Minutes per hour: 1m 30s
  • Length of hour: 61½m

Corsica

  • Trains: 17
  • Time spent: 15 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 60
  • Minutes per hour: 4m
  • Length of hour: 64m

France (including Corsica, for interest)

  • Trains: 23
  • Time spent: 24½ hours
  • Total minutes delay: 90
  • Minutes per hour: 3m 40s
  • Length of hour: 63½m

Switzerland

  • Trains: 4
  • Time spent: 4½ hours
  • Total minutes delay: 8
  • Minutes per hour: 1m 45s
  • Length of hour: 61½m

Total

  • Trains: 41
  • Time spent: 50 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 132
  • Minutes per hour: 2m 40s
  • Length of hour: 62½m

Total (excluding Corsica, for interest)

  • Trains: 24
  • Time spent: 35 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 72
  • Minutes per hour: 2m
  • Length of hour: 62m

So Britain is most punctual, followed by Italy, Switzerland, Eurostar and France (with or without Corsica).

It may be worth noting that Britain, France and Italy are good at providing train running information at all stations – both with on-platform screens and also concourse/ on platform full station departure boards. The Swiss are not in the same league; at Bellinzona there was no full station live departure board (just the daily departures sheet and the individual platform screens) while at intermediate stops up the Gotthard Pass there was nothing at all. If a train was late – and as often as not they were – there was no indication as to how long you might be there. Swiss platform screens also, very distractingly and seemingly now uniquely, do not show the full calling pattern but merely selected highlights. As a consequence it’s helpful to know where your train is going and where else it might be stopping. By contrast, Italian full-station departure boards, proudly displayed over booking-office windows, have the full calling pattern scrolling across.

Corsica had no platform indications at all, and passengers were expected to know where to go. This is not entirely unreasonable for a ramshackle narrow-gauge network, but as it is clearly trying not to be ramshackle (and in fact was loading very well with people who probably count as “normal”) some sort of move towards centralised control, effective train running information and late 19th-century single-line working (as opposed to what looked like a combination of a very basic signalling structure plus crossing orders) would not be unreasonable. (At least provide a few Help Points at key stations to indicate how trains were running at the last crossing point.)

help-point-1-jpgA Great Western small station help point. Marvellous invention and a very helpful investment, even at stations with only one platform and no “reporting points” for a few miles.

The French, British and largely Swiss did station announcements in one language; the Italians are bi-lingual Italian and English. The English announcements are a bit odd as the station names have only been recorded in Italian so automated announcements keep dropping from Received Pronunciation English into sharp, tuneful Italian for “Pisa Centrale”.

No connections were missed (one was held for the two-dozen of us making it) and all destinations were reached either about when the railway said it would get me there or (in three cases) without such delay as caused any inconvenience to onward connections. The connection-making was despite me having heavy luggage and not padding journeys, so overall everything went very well and I was impressed.

Voyaging to central Corsica from southern England entirely by rail, except for 8 hours of sea-crossing, very much brings home that the railways are an international network. There is a lot of inter-reliance and a great deal of potential to import delays. On that basis, wanting to allow 62½ minutes for every advertised scheduled hour (which for 50 hours travelling I think starts to become a statistically acceptable figure) is really not that bad. (In practice it does not mean that passengers should tell their friends to meet them 25 minutes after the timetable says they will arrive at the end of a 10-hour journey. It does however mean that making a 5-minute connection into the last train of the night after a 10-hour journey might be considered statistically inadvisable and if it is possible to target the penultimate train instead this will provide a nice little buffer. If of course the only way to make the journey is to do the 5-minute connection and otherwise you’re booking a hotel ten miles from your destination then punt on it. You’ll probably make it most of the time.)

The major delays were:

  • French TGVs delayed in the Avignon area (the one I was on by 15 minutes and the one I connected into at Marseille by the same, presumably due to being a following train);
  • Delays on the single-line sections between Ventimiglia and Genoa (the only Italian train I had running late, and if we went by double-line trains only Italy would have a clean record);
  • Something which knocked back the early morning Ajaccio to Bastia train on Corsica by half an hour;
  • For completeness, four minutes of the seven in the UK were waiting to follow a delayed train off the single line from Kings Lynn.

So across Europe single lines exacerbate delays – breaking news….

St Pancras 4 JPG.jpgEurostar at St Pancras (half-set 373012).

Livorno 1 JPG.jpgPunctual Trenitalia service en route to Roma Termini, seen gliding into Livorno Centrale.

Nice Ville 1 JPG.jpgNice Ville, with a French regional train in residence. Behind is the whacking great concrete flyover of the coast road which sails lightly over rooftops and the east end station throat.

Basel 1 JPG.jpgSwiss regional train at Basel, on a 9-minute turnaround at the end of a roughly 4-hour journey (it had arrived at 11:55; the turnaround included detaching the loco that had brought it in from Luzern and attaching the loco to take it back). As well as Olten, Luzern, Arth-Goldau and Bellinzona it would also call at Schwyz, Brunnen, Flüelen, Erstfeld, Göschenen, Airolo, Faido, Biasca and Cadenazzo. In other countries (excepting the UK, where the full calling pattern would invariably be displayed) the full train number (IR2323) would be shown and provide some reassurance that this is not actually an express omitting the Gottardbahn intermediate calls, but the Swiss screens only show that it’s an interregional. Its inward working had been 10 minutes late at Airolo, but judicious timetable padding had recovered the lot by departure from Luzern.

Venaco 1 JPG.jpgCorsican train at Venaco, an intermediate station high in the central mountains where most trains cross services heading in the opposite direction. The modern trains are sleek things with internal passenger information screens and push-buttons for request stops, which contrasts somewhat with the lack of running information at stations (and, at Venaco, the tasteful abandonment of a handsome goods van by the old goods shed at right). The view from Venaco station is generally quite something, but this was a gloomy morning where the mist was rolling in from the coast. A few minutes later the late-running northbound train growled out of the murk into the nearer platform.

Venaco 2 JPG.jpgAnother Venaco picture to round the post off – an Ajaccio-bound train, with its big picture windows, glides out of the station with some of Corsica’s striking mountains beyond.