Today, we’ve shared our dossier of your train hell stories with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to persuade him to act on the promises his party made in the General Election. Here, we pull just a handful of those terrible tales and ask the government to do more.
In the run-up to the last General Election, many of the major political parties made big pledges to help rail passengers.
Labour called out ‘increasingly unreliable and overcrowded services’ and pledged to ‘deliver real improvements for passengers’. The Liberal Democrats promised to ‘introduce a rail ombudsman to enforce passenger rights’ and called for ‘stronger focus on customers’ in rail. The Conservatives promised that if elected they would ‘introduce a passenger ombudsman to stand up for the interests of rail users’.
This cross-party attention on the need to deal with problems in rail struck a chord with me, and not just because it’s something that Which? has been calling for a long time.
Journey from hell
Earlier this year, I took a long train journey to visit my parents. I booked a ticket two weeks in advance, but when I turned up for my train, it turned out that the reserved seats were cancelled as they hadn’t had time to put out all the reservations. This led to a bun fight for seats and some pretty tense exchanges between passengers, while the train guards seemed to evaporate into thin air.
As the journey went on, the people around me started complaining about the state of our train. Several of us were annoyed about how overcrowded it was, and a few commented that it was ridiculous that you can let more people on trains than there are seats.
We got slowly more delayed as the journey went on, and some people started to worry about missing their connections.
People started asking about compensation and whether or not we could claim. Once the conversation got going, one woman said she made regular claims for journeys as she travels a lot, but hates how long it takes. Another person chipped in that whenever they do make a claim, all she gets is ‘a couple of quid in vouchers’, and that was almost as annoying as getting nothing back at all. The guy next to me simply said: ‘Why bother complaining? It’s just not worth the hassle.’
On my return journey, the train was so overcrowded that I couldn’t actually get into the carriage in order to see if there were any spare seats. In fact, it was so full there wasn’t space to sit on the floor – it really was standing room only for the whole two-and-a-half hours home.
Off the rails
What really struck me about these experiences and conversations was how little hope people had of anything actually getting any better – despite what politicians have promised us.
Here at Which? we know that there are quite literally thousands of other passengers out there experiencing the same kind of problems, with many of you sharing your ‘train hell’ stories with us.
In just a few months, we received over 3,000 stories. So far, more than 55,000 people have signed up to support our campaign.
We analysed the stories you told us, and found that the biggest problem people have is with punctuality, reliability, or delays to services – almost half of all the stories we received talked about this. Michael said:
‘Practically every time we have attempted to travel by rail there have been delays or a replacement bus service, which have resulted in missed appointments or arriving late for events.’
A quarter of people told us that overcrowding was a massive issue for them from being squashed or not being able to sit comfortably, to trains being so dangerously overcrowded it wasn’t possible to board the train at all. Marc remarked:
‘To say that we were packed into the carriages like sardines would be an insult to sardine packers!’
While Angelina commented:
‘I do not seem to make a rail journey recently without the train being overcrowded, cancelled or left waiting on a station late at night in bad weather with no shelter.’
And it sounds like the trains we’re using are regularly not living up to your expectations in terms of cleanliness either. Louise said:
‘All trains are filthy and full of litter, and obviously never cleaned. The stations are also poorly maintained.’
Others have had problems with the customer service they receive on trains. Chris explained:
’They make people like me feel unimportant and the staff stand at gates on their mobile phones instead of helping. They don’t know or aren’t trained in how to speak and connect with people. It’s a shambles!’
And when passengers speak up and ask for compensation, they often find the company’s response less than helpful. Of her attempts at claiming, Gemma said:
‘The last three times I have applied for compensation for delays of an hour or more, the train company has written back to say that there were no delays at that date and time.’
Janet’s experience was similar:
‘I sent a written complaint on 30 December and got no acknowledgement or response. They didn’t respond to my email. I telephoned and was told there was “at least” a three-month delay in dealing with complaints. They couldn’t even say whether they received my complaint, as nothing was being scanned onto system for “at least two months”.’
All of this is having a real impact on people’s lives. Rory summed it up well:
‘Most of all I’m furious about all the lost time – time wasted on trying to get home, time I should be spending with my wife and family, the missed meals, drinks, birthdays, meetings, appointments, anniversaries, gigs, and cinema trips… We are not cattle to be milked, or pawns to be shoved around a political board game – we are people, human beings with lives outside train stations…’
These stories get to the heart of why reform of our rail services is just so important. That’s why today we’ve sent a dossier of Which? supporter stories to the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to ask him to deliver on the promises his party made in the run-up to the General Election.
We want the government to take decisive action to:
- Reform the Office of Rail and Road to put passenger needs at the heart of everything it does
- Create a statutory Transport Ombudsman to make sure passengers aren’t ignored when things go wrong
Let us know your biggest rail concerns by completing our poll.
What is the biggest problem you face when using the railways?
Punctuality, reliability and delays (50%, 454 Votes)
Overcrowding (43%, 389 Votes)
Cleanliness (3%, 31 Votes)
Issues claiming compensation (3%, 28 Votes)
Total Voters: 902