LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Increasing congestion on the British railways is magnifying the effect of disruptions and leaving passengers facing costly delays, the government spending watchdog said on Tuesday.
The warning comes at a time when Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain's rail infrastructure, is under pressure to avoid a repeat of last year's Christmas getaway period, when they were fined 14 million pounds after engineering works overran, delaying the journeys of 200,000 people.
"Rail passengers pay handsomely to travel on trains and yet, through incidents on the network, are still suffering expensive delays," said Edward Leigh, chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts.
The Committee, which published a report into how incidents on the rail network are managed, found the reliability of trains has only just returned to levels that existed before the Hatfield train crash in October 2000.
The crash, which killed four people, led to widespread engineering work to replace sections of track.
During 2006-2007, over 1.2 billion passenger journeys were made in Britain, but the committee says this number is growing and greater congestion on the network means greater disruptions when problems occur.
The committee found that nine out of 10 services in 2006-2007 arrived on time but delays still cost passengers, who already paid a total of 5.1 billion pounds in fares, an extra 1 billion pounds in terms of lost time.
It also said the rail industry, which last year received more than 5 billion pounds in subsidies, needs to improve communications with the emergency services to minimize disruptions to the network. It found fire and rescue services often did not even know who to contact.
The report also found passengers whose trains are delayed are not kept properly informed by train operators. This finding was echoed by Passenger Focus, the national rail watchdog, who said only 34 percent of passengers are satisfied with the way train companies deal with delays.
"Passengers are rightly angered when their train comes to a halt for a lengthy period and nobody in the train crew can give them any information," Leigh said.
Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato