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Network Rail blames rocketing dwell times for poor performance

Network Rail says there is “strong evidence” that passenger journey growth is directly impacting peak performance in London and the South East (LSE) because of rising dwell times on an already “saturated network”. 

In a report seen by RTM, submitted as evidence to the Office of Rail & Road (ORR) during its investigation into poor performance on Southern, Govia Thameslink (GTR) and in Scotland, the infrastructure owner stated that passenger journey growth in 2014-15 exceeded the Strategic Business Plan’s (SBP’s) anticipated 3% compound growth by 40%. 

The ‘Impact of Passenger Growth on Train Performance’ report stated “there is strong evidence that weekday peak performance in LSE has been directly impacted by this increase through extended station dwell times on a saturated network”. 

Network Rail added that “in simple terms” the London morning peak Public Performance Measure (PPM) has fallen by 5%, and this has generated a 2% drop in LSE weekday PPM. 

It was stated that the “most probable relationship” between increasing passenger volumes and service delays is at stations, reflected in the ‘dwell time’ for individual trains. 

LSE weekday services account for 45% of national PPM, so this drop resulted in an overall decline of nearly 1% in England & Wales. The report suggests that 40% of this decline was “unexpected” for 2014-15, as most of the SBP mitigation plans for growth were associated with upgrades to be delivered later in CP5. 

Rising dwell times go largely unrecorded, but they have the most acute effect on performance where there are “multiple closely-spaced station calls, heavy volumes of commuter traffic, complex junction arrangements and large numbers of services – the LSE sector”. 

As well as in the LSE area, these symptoms are also observed on services around Birmingham, south Manchester, Merseyside and Glasgow. 

Network Rail’s report revealed that Arup research for the Crossrail and Thameslink projects shows a modelled correlation between the volume of passengers boarding and the train berth time. If no passengers are standing in the train vestibule the time taken for a given number of passengers to alight is shorter than that for an equivalent number to board – around 5 seconds for every 30 passengers. Where there is a mix of boarding and alighting passengers there is an exponential deterioration of station dwell times. 

 Dwell times

Following the ORR’s investigation, which led to the regulator fining Network Rail £2m for breaching its licence agreement, it noted that “whilst it is possible that a greater than forecast increase in passenger growth could have adversely impacted performance in 2014-15, we do not consider that the report provided by NR conclusively proves the link to, or the extent to which, passenger growth affected Southern and GTR’s performance in 2014-15”. 

Network Rail said that resolving the issue of dwell times is a significant challenge for the industry. 

Its ‘Impact of Passenger Growth’ report, submitted to the ORR in late May this year (but only seen by RTM this week, following a Freedom of Information request), said the organisation’s Business Planning team will lead a review of good practice opportunities, and work out how best to mitigate the problem. 

And a new workstream will undertake a greater level of analysis surrounding the impact of passenger growth on performance. This will be aligned with modelling work and combine cross-industry skills to review passenger data, and establish an analytical approach to understanding and predicting the impact of passenger growth on performance. 


Jb   11/09/2015 at 12:18

Is not the solution to provide more doors per coach and reduce the time between the train stopping and the doors being enabled? This latter feature is most desireable on the Northern Class 321 EMUs.

Just_A_Bloke   11/09/2015 at 12:27

Make sure passenger waiting on platforms stand to the side of the doors, that way folks can get off more quickly. Its amazing how often folks have a zero tolerance attitude and try to get on before I get off. I'm fat and bigger than you you need to let me off first ;)

Andrew Sharp   11/09/2015 at 12:49

The time between the train coming to a stand and the door open being activated can be quite long. I have noticed this on South West Trains in particular. There have recently been problems with Thameslink trains at St. Pancras International which have meant that the driver cannot release the doors for around half a minute. A separate issue is ticket barrier gates. You can wait up to a minute in the evening peak at St. Albans to get out of the station! That's delay too!

A Guard   11/09/2015 at 12:50

Even with more doors, waiting passengers still seem to go for the nearest and will queue. I repeatedly call for waiting passengers to stand back and let my ones get off; they do not like it but the shock of being told to 'Stand Back!' does work.

Rumplestiltskin   11/09/2015 at 12:53

A restricting factor for alighting passengers is the aisle inside the coach, not the vestibule. That's why there always seems to be another one "popping up" at the door when you are trying to board. Also, watch the alighters, in the majority of instances two will reach the threshold together but hesitate and step off one at a time, possibly because they are unsure if the other person will turn left or right? Fascinating subject. The old slam-door stock had a door for every ten seats - no dwell time issues then.

Patrick   11/09/2015 at 13:40

That report is really poor. By their own admission, Network Rail haven't even spoken to the operators about passenger numbers. Also, the report is full of factual errors (where on earth is "Abbey Hill"?) Staggering that the custodians of our railway can produce such a substandard investigation.

Jak Jaye   11/09/2015 at 14:15

Dwell Times? if you want to see that in action hop down to Basingstoke and sit on a slow wobbly train for up to 4 minutes same with Southern and Thameslink it can take 15 minutes to go from St Pancras to Blackfriars (2 stops)

Jason   11/09/2015 at 15:21

The report has 7 instances of 'Abbey' and 6 of them are 'Abbey Wood'. It is clear that Abbey Hill should have been Abbey Wood and it is in the section titled Maze Hill

Henry Law   12/09/2015 at 19:31

The problem is related to the design of the rolling stock and the platform-train interface. In the 1950s, the discipline known as Operational Research would have been applied to this complex man-machine interface problem. Time to revive it. Gap bridges, widespread on the continent, may be part of the solution. They add a further 15 seconds in deployment time but promote faster boarding and alighting. But it is no use wheeling out "solutions" without proper in-the-field testing.

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