In 2012, 97 out of 100 regional and commuter train departures were on schedule, compared to 87 out of 100 in 2011, according to the Swedish Transport Administration.
But the main reason behind the improvement seems to be that the Transport Administration changed the definition of delayed journeys.
Previously, trains that arrived five or more minutes late were recorded as delayed. Now, a train can be up to 15 minutes late without being counted as late.
While the Transport Administration previously claimed that the time limit was stretched in order to bring the Swedish definition in line with European measurements, it now admits that it was the result of a deal it struck with the train industry.
The Sveriges Radio (SR) programme Kaliber found that 15 minutes is, in fact, not a standard measure for counting train delays in Europe. Reporters confronted the Transport Administration’s acting CEO Caroline Ottosson with their findings.
“About a year ago we and the train industry decided to report the number of trains delayed by 15 minutes,” admitted Ottosson.
“Sweden is a big country,” she explained. “Many trains travel long distances and so we have chosen 15 minutes.”
In January, the Transport Administration reported that “punctuality in train traffic improved somewhat last year. New figures show that 96.9 percent of departures were on schedule, an increase by a few tenths compared to 2011.”
And Sweden’s Minister of Infrastructure Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd told Kaliber that “Statistically speaking we now have a punctuality rate that puts us at the top in Europe.”
But while transport officials claim great success rates, Swedish travellers are not too impressed with train services.
In December 2012, a Swedish Quality Index (Svenskt Kvalitetsindex) survey showed that, out of all Swedish brands, rail operator SJ had the most dissatisfied customers.
Asked if the Transport Administration has tried to find out how travellers themselves would define delays, Ottosson said “that is a question we will address within the framework of our systematic efforts to improve punctuality”.
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