/ Travel & Leisure

Network Rail opens up about the causes of delays

Delayed flights on screen with holidaymakers

Have you ever felt frustrated when the station manager announces the dreaded ‘delay’ word over a tannoy? Kirsty Ivanoski-Nichol, Transparency Manager at Network Rail, explains what they’re doing to help…

As someone who regularly commutes by train I know that delays can be frustrating. A train is mysteriously cancelled, or slowed down by additional stops just as you’re within reach of home. But why does this happen? And what do the acronyms and railway terms – so often bandied about – actually mean?

When we polled people this spring they said they wanted to hear more about the causes of delay. So we set about expanding our delays explained pages. The aim is to get to a point where people can make sense of what they hear if there’s a delay.

Why is your train delayed?

I work at Network Rail but I wouldn’t claim to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the railway. So it’s been written in plain English and – essentially – tested on me. If I couldn’t understand the explanations, there was a good chance passengers wouldn’t be able to either.

As well as the webpages we’ve tried to bring the explanations to life and get closer to passengers. So the most recent addition is a ‘knock on delays’ film. It shows why, if there’s a problem somewhere you might think unrelated to your journey, it can still cause you disruption. And it’s currently showing in a station near you!

People tell us they’re glad we’re being more honest about the challenges we face. Most of us ultimately think of the railway as a public service. And we at Network Rail receive substantial government funding.

Being honest about train delays

This is all part of our wider ambition to set the standard for transparency. Not just in the rail industry, but in the corporate world. So we’ve also done things like open up some of our data feeds, and developers have been able to transform them into exciting apps and websites. Like Raildar.co.uk which features live departure boards for every station on the network. And CityMapper which combines our data with other transport providers so that passengers have up to the minute travel information while they’re on the move. These and more are helping passengers make informed decisions about how they get from A to B.

As part of our polling we asked people whether they think we’re a transparent company. A third told us they think we are. Not a bad start. But around half don’t know whether we are or not. Transparency is something we – at Network Rail – are absolutely committed to. But we recognise that we’ve got some way to go.

So what’s your view on our approach? And what do you think we should be making more of an effort to explain?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Kirsty Ivanoski-Nichol, Transparency Manager at Network Rail. All opinions expressed here are Kirsty’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.


Sadly this news comes about 15 years too late or me, as I stopped using the trains then.

Why? Well one snowy day, I got to a connecting station and then waited 2 hours for a slow train to stop, whilst watching all the fast ones go through. When I asked a guard, yes they used to them on the platforms then “why, couldn’t they just stop one of those”. The answer was we don’t want them to be late. so no concern that they’d cancelled around 12 of the slower stopping trains. When my season ticket ran out, that was it. No public transport for me since.

I am glad to see that they’re finally learning that the passenger IS their business and without those they’d be all out of a job.

Jen S says:
2 September 2014

Earlier this year I was travelling from Peterborough to London. 10 minutes into the journey the train slowed as there was a balloon on the overhead lines. A train on another track went past blowing the balloon onto the live line, being a foil gas filled celebratory balloon there was a small explosion but big enough to bring the line down. We were stranded at 50 min journey took over 6 hours. The ‘trolley guy’ deserved a medal he was brilliant and kept us upto date and very amused.

I am pleased Network Rail is committed to better communication with passengers. And I’m glad that word is back in vogue after years of being called “customers” – the difference is that “passengers” have actually bought a ticket to travel on the train whereas “customers” are merely shoppers who could use any form of transport [e.g their own car] or make no purchase or journey at all. Getting the language right is so important with travel disruption and I think Network Rail is under a much bigger obligation than the train operating companies because of their network-wide responsibilities and because the track, signalling and public safety are such fundamental aspects of each journey. I just hope Network Rail take into consideration the needs of the occasional traveller – who has usually paid a lot more per mile for their ticket than regular commuters and for whom the railway system is a complex, incomprehensible, and frequently illogical, mystery tour, obstacle course and endurance test rolled into one.

Something that has always intrigued me is why the departure screens at railway stations are organised by time and final destination rather than by stations served in alphabetical order. When I arrive at London Kings Cross I want to know how long it will before the next train to Cambridge, not look for “Cambridge” on loads of screens showing trains ending up at Hertford North, Peterborough, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, etc. How am I supposed to know the next Cambridge train could be listed under King’s Lynn? By the time my eyes have scrolled down the screens [that keep flipping and jumping across the display] I’ve missed the next departure! I have only seen one departure screen [at London Bridge – probably removed now with all the improvements under way] listing stations in alphabetical order, and I think there are only two in London [London Victoria and London Waterloo] that show the quickest arrival at important stations like Clapham Junction – necessary because an earlier departure might have more stops and take longer than a slightly later one.

Living south of Norwich as we do we have a choice of routes to London and Network Rail has had [and continues to have] more impact on our lives than any other organisation, but overall I think it does a jolly good job and deserves more praise than it gets.

Stephen Baxter says:
29 September 2014

It’s an excellent idea to show destinations in alphabetical order. It just needs a bit of forward thinking
to invest in a suitable display and software. Hook that into a Smart phone and you have your own reconfigurable display to guide you to the correct platform.

Chinazo says:
2 September 2014

This is a nice piece and quite enlightening too. But there are no stated reasons for train delays.

Ken Taylor says:
5 September 2014

There is no excuse for our railway service to be any more expensive per passenger mile than countries with the best practice in similar countries in Western Europe.
Also the administration and running of it doesn’t need to be any more complicated.

Benchmark cost and complexity, and copy the best. Could it be more complicated?

Stephen Baxter says:
29 September 2014

It seems fairly obvious that something on the line will cause delays.
Let us have a proper Pareto Analysis of the reasons for delays and an action plan to address those with the highest frequency.
A compelling reason to use the train would be high reliability – that creates capacity for additional
customers who are attracted onto the railways.

Michael Pritchard says:
30 September 2014

There are also numerous websites out there dedicated to try to help people claim for compensation, including my own which uses the above mentioned network rail data.

I presume they have not mentioned it because they don’t want too many people claiming for delays (or it may be a crap website!). Raildar is an excellent site but not catered for delay-repay claims specifically.

Do a google search and you’ll find numerous sites (including ones I admit better than mine, but maybe not free) that will help you claim.