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19 February 2020

Why your train is more likely to be late if you live north of Coventry

Investment levels two or three times higher per head in the south have translated into a vast regional divide in rail services. 

By Samir Jeraj

It is a long-standing British tradition to complain about one’s train commute and the delays it involves, but people who live in Birmingham can now find out exactly how much worse off they are than their friends in Benfleet. RotaCloud, a staff management software provider, has crunched the punctuality data for all 2,566 stations in the UK over the past year and produced a tool that allows travellers to discover the percentage of trains running late at their stop.

The data reveals a stark north-south divide within the busiest 500 stations. All of the 20 worst stations for punctuality are north of Coventry. By contrast, 16 of the 20 most punctual stations are south of Coventry (two are in Liverpool and two in Scotland).

This should perhaps be unsurprising. Transport investment in the south, and particularly in London, has long been greater than in the north. Per-capita spending in London was £903 in 2018/19, more than double the £376 per head in the north of England as a whole. Spending for other areas was still lower, at £268 in the East Midlands and £276 in Yorkshire and Humber. And divide is still widening: from 2013 to 2018, spending on transport in London grew at twice the rate per person than in the morth of England.

[See also: Editor’s Note: The Great Railways Debacle – and why Britain has no plan or national story to speak of]

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Wales has faired little better, with fines for delayed trains rising to £3.4m at the start of this year. Planned improvements have also been slow. A £2.8bn scheme to electrify the line between London and Cardiff was eventually completed in January after being delayed for years by problems converting the Severn Tunnel. The original plan to extend electrification to Swansea was abandoned in 2018, having been described by the then transport secretary, Chris Grayling, as “not [a] sensible thing to do”. The widely derided “Pacer” trains, constructed using bus bodies in the 1980s and intended for use as a temporary measure, will still run in Wales until at least July, despite promises that they would be phased out by the end of 2019.

The government has pledged to reverse this trend and “pour” money into transport in the north of England. Recent announcements have included £4.2bn for public transport projects, £500m to reopen stations closed by the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, and a further £5bn for buses. However, the planned high speed links between the now-approved High Speed 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, a proposed east-west link that would connect Liverpool and Manchester to Newscastle and Hull, are in doubt. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, sees an opportunity to claw back some of the £106bn that HS2 is predicted to cost, but this will only reinforce the north-south divide.

[See also: The ghost of Dr Beeching]