Trains that run on time, true or false?


Shinkansen bullet train

Shinkansen bullet train

Japanese railway company makes headlines apologising to customers for despatching train 20 seconds too early

Associate Director and Head of Railway Benchmarking Ben Condry , Railway and Transport Strategy Centre was approached by the BBC this week regarding the news that a Japanese railway company apologised to its customers for sending a train off 20 seconds early.  The story highlights the cultural difference that passengers face regarding commuting. At first glance we are surprised that such a story could even make the news and indeed the opposite would be true for many other countries who do not perform so well when their trains are not running on time.

In the article, Ben highlights the fact that there are vast cultural differences between countries within the expectation of its rail passengers.  When reviewing the story, other countries should not be comparing themselves as every country has their own definition as to what constitutes as being on time and so comparisons cannot be made directly.

"Comparing the numbers is close to an impossible task," says Ben Condry, associate director of the Railway and Transport Strategy Centre at Imperial College London.

"Even if you consider only the percentage of trains on time, there are some very significant differences in measurements and definitions.

Force majeure

"Are cancelled trains counted as 'late' or excluded from the data altogether? What about trains which are partly cancelled? What if a replacement bus is provided?"

"Are some types of delay excluded from the data - such as extreme weather, ill passengers, strikes?"

For example, Taiwan's High Speed Rail Company says 99.66% of its trains were on time in 2015 - but that excludes trains that were delayed by factors outside the company's control.

And, as Mr Condry says: "The scale of the impact of some of these factors can easily outweigh any real differences in punctuality."

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Ms Alexandra J Williams

Ms Alexandra J Williams
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

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