Complaints about rail services have risen once again, according to latest data from the rail regulator. Punctuality and reliability of services were the most common complaint made by passengers. So how can we get trains on track?
The Office of Rail and Road has revealed that the number of complaints being made by passengers on our railways rose by 7.5% in the year 2016-17, with over half a million complaints in total.
In truth, this doesn’t come as a surprise to many of us here at Which?, especially after thousands of supporters of our rail campaign shared with us their experiences of using trains in the UK. Their stories highlighted the multiple basic failings that passengers are having to put up with every day…
Figures for 2016/17 show that 26.5% of all complaints received were about punctuality and reliability. In fact, the regulator reports that punctuality and reliability on trains in the past year have been at its worst since 2005/6.
Reliability of rail services was certainly a common gripe for among our campaign supporters too. One supporter, Saul, told us:
‘I was waiting on the platform with the information sign saying ‘on time’, then a minute after the train was due it updated to say the train would arrive in a minute’s time. It updated every minute in this way for a further 10 minutes before switching to saying delayed. Five minutes later the train disappeared from the board and the next train showed as delayed. Five minutes later that was also cancelled, as was the train after that. All of this with no useful or informative announcements or warnings. I was tempted to start walking the 45 miles home, or see if I could get back into the office to sleep the night.’
The second highest complaint recorded by the regulator was about ticket buying facilities, with 7.3% of complaints. An issue that again was reflected in our supporter stories, and particularly bad for Which? supporter Adrian:
‘Ticket inspectors tried to fine me for not having a ticket even when the ticket office was closed and only touch screen machines were available. I’m blind and cannot use them. I have had to call the police on several occasions due to their threatening behaviour. Complaints are ignored and the standard response provided is that I should have asked total strangers to put in my card pin and help me use the machines.’
Future of rail
With well over half a million complaints in the past year, and with the total number of complaints going up, passengers have reached the end of the line with shoddy train companies. If you’ve experienced a poor rail service then you can use our free tool to claim a refund.
Passengers need to be put first. That’s why, with the new government in place, we’re calling for reform of the regulator to ensure that it’s better equipped put passengers at the heart of everything it does, and focus more closely on ensuring train companies are delivering for passengers.
We also want to see the creation of a mandatory and statutory rail ombudsman for rail to help passengers get their complaints resolved and put right things when they go wrong.
Update: 4 August 2017
Win! Plans for a new independent ombudsman for rail complaints have been announced.
The ombudsman will offer frustrated rail passengers a free-to-use complaints service that’s expected to start from early next year. It will be tasked with investigating customer complaints where train companies haven’t taken action or if failings are uncovered.
We know that thousands of rail passengers feel let down and ignored by train providers when things go wrong. Yet, while this is welcome news and a win for over 95,000 of our rail campaign supporters, sadly train companies will sign-up to the ombudsman on a voluntary basis rather than statutory.
We’re calling on the government to introduce an ombudsman that all operators must join. Only then will they be able to begin to restore trust and ensure that passengers get a much better standard of service.
If you want to see better rail services and an ombudsman that all train companies must sign-up to then back our campaign today.
What would you do to improve rail? Should the regulator be more passenger focused? Is a rail ombudsman needed?