Slower trains, or fiddling the numbers

There was an article in the Irish Examiner this morning with the headline “Iarnród Éireann admits journey times are longer”. The story starts with the following statement:

Timetables from 1974 and 1993 show journey times are now longer between principal destinations like Dublin, Cork, Waterford, and Sligo.

Fifteen years ago, the fastest train between Dublin and Cork completed the journey in two hours and 20 minutes, yet today the swiftest service takes two hours 45 minutes. In 1974, passengers could board the 6pm train at Dublin Heuston and arrive at Waterford at 8.15pm, yet today the journey time has increased by eight minutes.

This got me to thinking. Are these longer timetabled journey times because of issues with the trains and tracks, or are the trains being timetabled for longer journeys for the same reason that flights are taking longer now than they did 20 years ago.

Irish Rail, like many airlines, are being publicly measured according to their punctuality performance over time. For example, you can see the targets for Irish Rail from their website here.

If these performance numbers aren’t being met, we know what kind of uproar there would be – witness for example the furore over An Post providing a 77% on time delivery performance, rather than 94% which is their target.

So, how can an organisation like Irish Rail, or the airlines, make sure that their on time arrivals are nearly always met – maybe they could schedule the journey to take significantly longer than it will actually take. With that comfort level, you’ll rarely be late, even if you leave late.

We wrote about this, particularly in relation to airlines, back in May 2007. To follow up on that post, as a perfect example, the Ryanair Dublin to Stanstead schedule allows for 1hr 15mins for a flight – a flight that has you up in the air for no more than 55mins normally. We’ve all experienced our Ryanair flights taking off late, yet we still get the blurb when we land through the speakers telling us that the flight has arrived early.

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