Delays explained - knock-on effects

Similar to a busy motorway, even the smallest delay can have a huge knock-on effect.

22,000 passenger trains and 2,000 freight trains use the rail network every day and at peak times critical parts of the network now run at close to 100 per cent capacity.

Most of the problems that occur on the rail network are fixed quickly but, particularly on busy routes where trains are tightly scheduled, even something as simple as a blown fuse can cause knock-on delays that continue for hours afterwards. These delays don’t only affect the route where the problem was – they can also affect any connecting routes.

Delays leave trains, drivers and crews in the wrong place at the wrong time, so return journeys are likely to be affected too.

What we’re doing to reduce knock-on delays
When there are delays, the rail industry has to strike the balance between getting trains back on schedule as quickly as possible and minimising inconvenience for passengers already onboard delayed trains or waiting for a train.

Contingency plans have been agreed with all the train companies so we can quickly alter the timetable:

  • We may cancel trains to make room for the delayed trains to complete their journey quickly.
  • We may miss out stops to make up time or add stops to make sure we get everyone where they need to be – even if they are a little late.
  • Sometimes we cancel all trains in the affected area for an hour – the fastest way to get trains running back on time.

If we didn’t take any of these measures, on busy routes it would take many hours before all trains were back on schedule.

Of course we are also doing a lot of work to prevent problems happening in the first place – see our other delays explained pages for more details.