Punctuality is important but so is journey time

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On the face of it we’re glad to hear that South West Trains is optimistic it will meet targets laid down by the Office of the Rail Regulator.

The regulator has told Network Rail and train operators that it expects at least nine out of 10 trains to arrive on time between April 2014 and 2019 – that’s what Network Rail must ensure in order for it to get its subsidy, and in turn claim money from the operators.

As South West Trains already hits that rate – and Southern, the other company working out of Portsmouth, is not far off – there’s no reason to suggest that it won’t continue. Some will gripe at the figure being misleading as ‘on time’ in railway operator parlance actually can include being up to 10 minutes late on long-distance routes, which is hardly the same thing; however we’re inclined to let this lie.

The bigger issue for people getting on trains every morning in Portsmouth, Fareham and Havant is that fact that it takes more than 90 minutes to get to London, despite our relative proximity to the capital.

Packed-in Hampshire commuters allow themselves a wry smile looking at the speed arguments for the HS2 line north of London. HS2 may well take 30 minutes off London to Liverpool, but it’s only two hours to begin with for getting to the other side of England. It’s not far off two hours for us to get 60 miles north.

We’ve seen Portsmouth and London become ‘closer’ by road since the opening of the Hindhead tunnel two years ago, which anecdotally has given this area an economic lift, but we could no doubt reap great benefits were we to have a high-speed line even by today’s standards, let alone by HS2 measures. The answer is not obvious – the chance of another faster line being built is slim to minimal, and the chance of a fleet of faster trains to run on the existing line smaller still.

But as the train is the ideal method of travel – safe, relatively non-polluting and comfortable, we’d like to see imaginative ways of improving our connection with the capital and beyond.

Nine out of 10 slow trains being punctual is fine: but it’s hardly anything to write home about.