Train companies are accused of “artificially influencing” performance figures by using a loophole that hides the true number of cancellations on their services.
Suburban campaign groups have called for greater transparency from train companies over the number of “P-coding” services.
P-coding refers to the practice where train companies cancel trains before 10 pm the night before.
Because they registered before this deadline, they do not appear in the official Office of Land and Railroad (ORR) cancellation statistics – meaning the official numbers are below the actual number of trains that were cancelled. This also means that passengers can miss out on compensation through a “delayed refund” scheme.
Norman Baker, director of external affairs at Campaign for Better Transport, said that appropriate reporting is needed and that the “artificial massage” of cancellation numbers must stop so that appropriate accountability can occur.
“I don’t necessarily blame the train companies for the cancellations, but I say this, we should know the level of the cancellations.
“Calling for a cancellation at 9:59 the night before is not a cancellation, it’s definitely not right.”
He also called for the 22:00 deadline to be set much earlier.
Railway companies should be ‘transparent’
Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firefighters (Aslef), raised the issue of P-coding on Radio 4’s Today program earlier in the day.
He said he believes the number of cancellations attributed to train companies by ORR is far below the real figure due to P-coding.
Anthony Smith, CEO of Transport Focus, said that the number of trains that were taken off schedule the night before had increased significantly recently, and that some train companies are particularly bad at doing so.
He said companies need to be “completely open and honest” about how many of these cancellations occurred the night before.
“It’s public money and it has to be very transparent about what’s going on,” he said.
It is especially difficult for passengers to understand whether their trains are cancelled. The only way to find out if a service has been canceled is to use National Rail’s Trip Planner or look at departure boards at train stations.
A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, services are sometimes canceled at short notice for a variety of reasons, including staff absenteeism due to illness and significant extreme weather events that can have a serious impact on services.
“We work tirelessly to recruit and train new staff and increase resilience.”