A rail boss has been accused of “living on another planet” after claiming that Britain’s railways are the envy of Western Europe.

Robert Nisbet, regional director of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train companies, said that other EU nations can “only dream” of having the UK’s levels of punctuality and efficiency.

Mr Nisbet conceded that passengers had faced “frankly appalling” levels of service, but went on to defend the performance of the railways.

In terms of the total cost as opposed to performance I think he’s onto something too.

16 thoughts on “A fun claim”

  1. A friend of mine living in Germany says the railways there are absolute crap, with trains usually late or simply not running, so it looks like GTR have achieved German levels of efficiency lately.

  2. The German railways are so tightly planned that one minor delay or cancellation tends to cascade through the entire national system. So there are two modes: working to plan and not working at all.

  3. The German reputation for efficiency, quality, punctuality, on-budget etc has taken such a beating recently that the last time my profrssional society held a conference in Germany, a colleague gave the (traditionally tongue in cheek) introductory lecture on it. Featuring the Hamburger Philarmoniker, Volkswagen diesel scandal, Berlin Brandenburg airport, Stuttgart 21, among others.

  4. Bloke in North Dorset

    I wonder how many of those criticising him have travelled on railways in other countries so they can make like for like comparisons?

    I worked for some time in Zurich and whilst the system is very good I travelled from the centre to the suburbs and that was a pleasant commute, the trains and trams coming the other way did look quite full. I also had delays cause by leaves on the track.

    DBB was quite good on the international route I used, Vienna to Budapest, but as BiG says its got a very poor reputation at home and their are call for privatisation. Italy was fun but that again was inter city and not commuting. My own experience of inter city commuting, outside commuter times, has also been quite pleasant.

  5. The Danish trains have a good reputation, and are heavily subsidised so cheap to travel on.

    Generally they’re reliable & punctual too.

    Currently I’m working from home because they’ve closed the whole line for 6 weeks over summer for essential maintenance/upgrades.

    They do this EVERY FECKING SUMMER!

    Naturally this doesn’t impact their performance statistics.

  6. Swiss railways are pretty good, but slow, probably due mainly to the terrain. I don’t like that all the seats face each other on Swiss trains.

    I commuted by rail in Italy for years. They had some system that required that, during strikes, a skeleton service be maintained during the rush hour. Which seems a reasonable compromise between the interests of workers and customers.

  7. Dunno whether it’s the legacy of Franco, but in a country with very little sense of timekeeping whatsoever, even the language refuses to differentiate between this morning & tomorrow, Spanish trains run to the minute. And even the autobuses. Collected an arrival from the bus station, Monday morning. 500km overnight run down from Madrid. Rolled in within 3 minutes of the published time.

  8. Customer satisfaction surveys generally measure performance versus expectation. Britisf Fail was so appalling in its latter years that the current system gets quite high marks from anyone old enough to be subsconsciously influenced by it.
    There was a meme about the skilled commuter who could fold his Financial Times to be able to read a single column at a time while standing in a jam-packed train: I did actually observe one or two guys doing that when I was commuting in the ’70s (I could never get it tighter than two columns).
    The survey referenced does not tell us any significant information about international comparisons, just inter-temporal ones.

  9. Several years ago when the Zoo-garten was the main terminus in Berlin, it didn’t even have one master signboard showing all the departures. You had to look at the big one and somehow intuit that there was (at least) one other somewhere else than the main concourse. The little one we found sent us scurrying to the right platform, and lo!, our train didn’t show up. There was nothing to tell us what was happening. So we asked another prospective passenger. He replied in English rather than German and said he’d no idea what was going on, and then said something to the effect of “we do this better in Poland”.

  10. Right now, Paris Montparnasse has been running on 50% capacity since a fire in signalling kit over the weekend (the best UK comparison might be Paddington). Paris Nord and Est were also closed at the weekend by unplanned electricity outages (that’s like Kings Cross and St Pancras). This is the third time at Montparnasse (where, TBF, they’re undertaking a big resignalling project) in 12 months. The idea that railways are far better on the Continent is only sustainable if you don’t actually use them.

  11. @bis

    We had a holiday touring Spain by train last year – 10 trains in two weeks. All were on time except for a 75 min journey from Salamanca to Valladolid, which managed to get in over an hour late, and we nearly missed our onward connection to León. No explanation was given, but a lot of cross-country lines are single track, which means if your train misses its ‘slot’, delays can quickly mount.

    Most Spanish stations (outside Madrid and a few other ‘busy’ junctions) see one or two trains an hour – there are often only a handful of trains a day, even between major cities, which makes time-keeping less challenging than on busy lines in the UK.

  12. Perhaps Robert Nisbet should compare the typical European train service if there is one with our open access providers, First Hull and Grand Central.
    No contest whatsoever.

  13. I have been unable to find (but definitely did read) an article from a year or two back passing on the horrifying and counter-intuitive news that railway execs from across Europe come to learn from British operations. While it is the case that on the continent long haul trains are generally subsidised and punctual, local, branch line and commuter services are frequently terrible. London in particular is held up as an example of how to move millions of commuters in and out of a major city by and large on time and at reasonable cost, largely paid for by those who use it.

  14. I think trains are probably much better in Switzerland, but they cost an arm and a leg. And it’s not EU.

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