The great autumn railway Leaves on the Line event is here again, and once again London Midland have implemented a leaf-fall timetable to accommodate it.
Any reasonable person accepts the need for train companies to operate leaf-fall timetables, and although 30 years ago 'the wrong type of leaves' was the annual tabloid newspaper joke, nowadays the problems leaves on the line cause for modern trains requiring them to slow down are generally understood. Given the need for trains to slow down, you'ld think a leaf-fall timetable would simply slow the trains down - for example, reducing a 10 minute frequency to, say, 15 minutes.
London Midland in Birmingham, however, have adopted an alternative strategy; instead of slowing the trains down to give passengers a longer - but predictable - journey time, they've instead kept the notional 10 minute / six trains an hour frequency for the inner core stations, but two trains an hour being expressed from half way along missing out the remaining stations until the end of that train's line - the excuse given being that these trains will be able to catch up any lost time to get the timetable back on track quickly.
At first reading that seems fair and reasonable, but deeper thinking reveals that this works well for London Midland, but not so well for the actual passengers - certain trains stopping at fewer stops and being able to more quickly get back in sync will by mathematical definition result in the lateness statistics showing fewer delayed trains. And delay statistics of themselves present a misleading view of actual passenger experience anyway - if the statistics are the average of the whole day's trains, yet (for example) 80% of journeys take place during two particular time windows, and the delayed trains are at best spread evenly through the day or worse, mostly occurring during the peak travelling times, then the published statistics will show better performance than the actual passenger experience. Coupled with the fact that for statistical reporting purposes a train is only logged as being late if it's late at the end of the line regardless of how late it might be at the intermediate stations (meaning a train which has been late all along its route but manages to arrive at the terminus on time because it was able to skip the last few stations is not logged as late), and a reasonable person can conclude that the purpose of the leaf-fall timetable as implemented is so London Midland can massage their performance statistics rather than in order to improve passenger experience.
And worst of all, the timetable as implemented actually punishes the people who are most likely to need to use the train the worst - for people living within the inner core who still get a full service, they have an easier choice to switch to the bus or even walk. The people living in the outer zone are the ones who are experiencing the reduced service, and for the people living in the outer zone switching to the bus is a less viable option.
A leaf-fall timetable which is fairer could be devised, though. One option could have been - since the point of the exercise is the necessity to slow the trains down - simply to have slowed all the trains down on the timetable by reducing the frequency from every 10 minutes to every 15 minutes. Or if that's too complicated to arrange around the rest of the network, having the leaffall trains skipping the inner stations rather than the outer stations would lessen the impact on the worst affected passengers. Or at the very least, removing only one rather than two trains an hour from any given station and removing them from alternating stations instead during that hour would be better for passengers than the arrangement as adopted!
Departed at 18:35, 3 minutes late.
Departed at 09:11, 2 minutes late.
Departed at 18:39, 7 minutes late.
Departed at 09:12, 4 minutes late.
Departed at 18:19, 7 minutes late.
Departed at 09:33, 15 minutes late.
Departed at 19:07, 15 minutes late.
Departed at 09:12, 14 minutes late.