SIGNALLING problems affect Oxfordshire rail passengers twice a working week, an Oxford Mail investigation has found.
In the three months since May there have been 27 signalling problems which affected trains running through the county.
First Great Western (FGW) issued alerts on Twitter about 24 of those, while Chiltern Railways was affected by two and CrossCountry by one.
Signals are mechanical or electrical devices that tell train drivers about speed limits, blockages or the movement of other trains.
While it is the train companies that are affected by signaling problems, it is the responsibility of Network Rail to maintain and fix any equipment. The company has blamed old equipment for the recurring problems.
Spokeswoman Victoria Bradley said: “As part of our modernisation programme we are investing £350m to resignal the Great Western route.
“The signalling technology we have inherited dates back to the 1960s. This programme will boost performance and reliability.”
She said: “We would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused by recent signalling problems and acknowledge that our modernisation programme will take time to complete.
“In the meantime, working with FGW, we have put in place additional maintenance teams between Paddington, Reading and Oxford to improve our system’s reliability.”
Chris Bates, chairman of the Cherwell Rail Users' Group, said: “Why don’t they do preventative maintenance?
“The equipment is obviously old and requires replacing. Everything has got a shelf life.
“They shouldn’t wait for the stuff to expire before they do any work.”
Mr Bates, who commutes from Banbury to London every day, said: “Once it goes it immediately causes everybody a problem.”
Guy Dangerfield, manager at watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Passengers tell us that punctual trains are what they want most from the railway.
“Recently passengers travelling to and from the Oxford area have faced a number of delays, so it is essential that Network Rail steps up its efforts to improve reliability and quickly fix problems when they do occur.”
Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “It simply isn’t good enough for these problems to be dragging on like this and subjecting travellers to repeated delays. One of the justifications always given for repeated fare increases is that the money is being used for investment.
“I am writing to Network Rail to urge them to get a move on and sort out these signalling issues once and for all.”
James Davis, a FGW spokesman, said: “We understand the frustration caused by the recent delays. Everyone at FGW and Network Rail is determined to see improvements.
“Recently there have been a number of infrastructure problems with points and signals, and disappointingly we have also had some fleet issues too.
“We have developed a Thames Valley Performance Plan.
“This includes a number of joint actions including FGW staff now working in Network Rail teams to improve liaison and ensure good communication during improvement works, and in-depth reviews of recurring problems.”
CrossCountry spokesman Richard Gibson said: “Any delay to our trains is disappointing as it can affect so many of our customers.
Commuters at Oxford Railway Station during delays last month following a lightning strike
“We know Network Rail is investing huge sums of money to upgrade Britain’s railways and we will work closely with them to ensure all our services, including those through Oxfordshire, benefit from this.”
Chiltern Railways operations and safety director Andrew Munden said: “We have a strong working relationship with Network Rail and recently recorded our highest ever performance figures.
“This is testament to the hard work of staff across the business and our partners at Network Rail.”
Department for Transport spokesman Paul Starbrook said: “Passengers expect to get to their destination on time and without disruption.
“More than £38bn will be spent on improving and maintaining the network and buying new trains over the next five years.”
In January, First Great Western increased its regulated fares, which includes season tickets, by an average of 3.1 per cent.
Oxford to London Paddington – £4,672
Didcot to London Paddington – £4,672
Bicester to London – £4,672
Charlbury to London Paddington – £6,124
Cost of a season ticket from Oxford to London Paddington over the last six years
2013 – £4,532
2012 – £,4348
2011 – £4,104
2010 – £3,892
2009 – £3,996
2008 – £3,892
Five recent issues
Saturday, July 26: Because of signalling problems between Didcot Parkway and Oxford services were delayed by up to 15 minutes.
Wednesday, July 23: Due to a signalling problem, platforms four and five at Paddington were unable to be used. This caused knock-on delays to services to Oxford.
Monday, July 21: Trains to Oxford and London Paddington from Worcester Shrub Hill were delayed by up to an hour because of a signalling problem.
Friday, July 18: There were signalling problems between Reading and Didcot Parkway, and trains were delayed by up to 20 minutes at short notice.
In one week there were four signalling problems affecting trains in and out of Oxfordshire: on July 14, both Paddington and Twyford were affected, on July 17 Twyford was hit again, and then on July 18 Didcot Parkway had problems.
The minimum compensation for a delay set out in the National Rail Conditions of Carriage is 20 per cent of a single ticket (10 per cent of a return, unless there were delays on both legs) if you are over an hour late.
In reality, all three of Oxfordshire’s train operators give you more than this if you claim within 28 days – but often your refund will be in vouchers.
If your journey is delayed by more than one hour, they will compensate the full value of your ticket.
If your train is delayed by more than 30 minutes you should get at least 50 per cent of the price of the delayed journey.
If the train you were due to travel on is cancelled or delayed and you decide not to travel, you are entitled to a full refund. Just visit a ticket office or claim it back by post.
‘We should get a better service for price we pay'
COMMUTERS have hit out at Oxfordshire’s train companies, saying that tickets cost too much to justify the number of delays.
William Montgomery, 28, commutes every day from Abingdon to Reading for his job as an IT consultant.
He said: “I don’t think Network Rail do enough considering I pay £100 a week.
“If you multiply that by the number of people who use this service, that’s a lot of money.
“Everything should be running fairly smoothly.
“I understand that there are going to be times where there are other factors, but it shouldn’t be this bad.
“My job is one where I have to be in at a certain time to perform certain tasks.
“It’s quite detrimental to my work. My boss has mentioned it to me a couple of times. I’ve only worked here for four weeks, so it doesn’t look very good when I’m late.”
Malcolm Burgess, 54, who works in Radley as an accountant, said: “There are always signalling issues.
“They leave many commuters sat on the platform for hours watching trains scurry past to London.”
The Twyford resident said: “We do international calls and several times I’ve had to reschedule things because I’m late.
“What’s also frustrating is when you have dinner reservations or theatre tickets in the evening and you’re suddenly an hour and a half late home.”
Oxford High School student Emily Newman said: “This year when I had my A-Level exams I made sure I didn’t get the train in that morning because I’ve had too many issues with trains being delayed before.”
The 17-year-old, from Didcot, said: “I was terrified of being late for my exams. I stayed at my grandad’s in Lewknor the night before and got the bus in.”
Retired chemist Marion Robinson, 69, from Appleford, said: “We’re a small village, we’re not economical enough to have a viable train service.
“Between the commuting hours there’s a four-hour gap between trains.
“You come into Oxford at 9am and the next train is at 1pm. It’s extremely frustrating.
“When a train is cancelled what do you do? You have to get a taxi to Didcot to get anywhere.”
Joining the daily grind
Sitting alongside men in suits and sleepy-eyed teenagers at 6.45am, I am about to experience the daily grind from Banbury to London Paddington.
With the taste of toothpaste still in my mouth, the idea of having to sit on this cold platform for another 20 minutes while my train is delayed is horrendous.
Luckily, my First Great Western train pulls up on time, and I even get a seat.
While my journey on Friday seemed to go extremely smoothly, with no one having to stand for long and minimal delays, it’s not always like this.
My frustrated fellow passengers are clearly used to having to leave extra time in case of delays.
For almost £5,000 a year, hard-working commuters should not have to factor Network Rail’s poor equipment into their morning routine. - Alex Wynick
It’s constant. Even if things work well I spend five hours travelling so when I have additional delays it’s frustrating. It’s very rare for my journey to be unaffected
It’s an absolute pain. No matter what you do for a job, if you use the trains you make plans and those are disrupted by delays
Chris Shewchuck, 35, Steventon
I have been hit by signalling problems, but mainly when there’s been lightening and things like that. It’s always annoying when you’re late
Simon Tierney, 35, Didcot
It’s annoying because you’re always late to commitments. It’s constant, why is it all the time?
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