Rail companies in the UK ordered to close loophole for train cancellations

Rail regulators have ordered train companies not to abuse a loophole that allows them to cancel any train the night before. This means that they will not be included in official cancellation statistics.

According to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), train cancellations are at “record levels”. This is far worse than official figures suggest. It was due to an increase in unrecorded pre-cancellations, also known as “pcoding”.

These can be confirmed up to 10pm on the previous night and are not considered in the railway performance statistics.

In November, TransPennine Express (TPE) was found to have abused p codes so much that it cancelled 20%-30% of its autumn train services. It was legally required to report rates between 5.6% & 11.8% for the same time period. Services cancelled on the day.

TPE cancelled 45% off the 333 trains that were scheduled to run on Wednesday. One hundred of these were cancelled the night before.

The ORR acknowledged Thursday that there was a significant gap between cancellation statistics and passenger experiences. The ORR has written to rail industry expressing concern about the lack of transparency in the recording of p-coded cancellations.

The ORR stated that “Removing trains in this manner can mean that a train that a passenger was expecting to catch when they got to bed can disappear from their timetable by the time they get to the station, unaware of the fact that it has been cancelled.”

These changes were made historically to help with the introduction of emergency timestables in cases where poor weather or infrastructure damage has necesitated a complete change to train service along a route. Instead, service performance is measured against the replacement schedule.

The ORR stated that p-codes were used “differently” in the past year. Late changes to timetables were made by late changes, such as withdrawing services from areas where there was not enough staff or appropriate trains. It stated that this was an improper application of the Network Code’s emergency timetables provisions.

Network Rail has been asked by the regulator to coordinate the industry in order to find a better way to do things. The ORR demands that all train companies provide specific information on “resource availability prior to cancellations” until this is fully implemented. The ORR has committed to publishing this data in the future alongside official statistics.

Feras Alshaker is the ORR director of planning and performance. He said that “we recognise this temporary mechanism was used in order to help passengers through frequent disruptions by telling them as soon as possible when their train service was canceled. However, good passenger information can still easily be obtained while maintaining full transparency, reliability and trustworthiness of official statistics.

TPE stated that it had recorded 100.5 cancellations on Wednesday. Partial cancellations are counted at 0.5 per service and 50.5 for the day. TPE spokesperson stated that it had reported all cancellations to the ORR and published them via Journeycheck.