Impact of Delays on Passenger Train Services: Evidence from Great Britain

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - reliability, operations - performance, organisation - performance, mode - rail


United Kingdom, Travel time, Train operations, Train handling, Train delays, Stated preferences, Service reliability, Revealed preferences, Railroad transportation, Rail transportation, Performance measurement, Passenger transportation, Passenger trains, Journey time, Great Britain


The impact of delays on passenger railways, with specific reference to the national rail network in Great Britain, is examined. A key distinction is made between punctuality (trains running late) and reliability (trains canceled). In Britain these have been combined into a public performance measure, which deteriorated markedly as a consequence of the Hatfield accident in 2000 but has since gradually improved. Causes of delay can be associated with train operators, infrastructure authorities, and external factors. In Great Britain, train operators apparently have been better able to manage delay than the infrastructure authority. Traditional means of valuing delay have used stated preference methods that incorporate a measure of mean lateness and have shown that a minute of late time is typically valued as equivalent to 3 min of timetabled journey time. This is referred to as the reliability multiplier. Studies have also focused on the value placed on the standard deviation of journey time and compare this valuation against that of mean journey time to produce the reliability ratio. The most recent work finds that the reliability ratio may be higher than previously thought, whereas the reliability multiplier may be lower than previously thought, especially for long journeys. In addition, recent work that has made use of revealed preference data to infer elasticities of demand with respect to delays indicates that most market segments are relatively insensitive to delays. In total, this recent work suggests that passengers in Britain may be becoming less sensitive to reliability, and reasons for this are examined.