/ Travel & Leisure

Can the rail regulator get trains on track?

Train track

The rail regulator has released its ‘Measuring up’ consumer report assessing passenger service on our railways. How would you rate your passenger experience?

The Office of Rail and Road’s annual report addresses four areas of the passenger experience – ticket selling, providing passenger information, support for people who need help on their journey, and complaints and compensation handling.

The regulator reports that passenger service is improving, but complaints handling still needs work.

Passenger service

On a daily basis, I face overcrowded and dirty trains – the experience makes Monday mornings pretty grim.

I’m certainly not alone, thousands of you have also told us your stories of train hell and what people have to face isn’t pretty. Overcrowded, dirty, delayed trains and when you try to complain you may well be ignored. At every stage of our journey, it’s clear that improvements are needed and train companies must take action.

We’ve been campaigning on problems facing passengers for quite some time, including a complaints system that doesn’t work for passengers and a confusing ticketing system.

We’ve been eager to see what progress the rail industry has made in the regulator’s annual consumer report out today. But in truth, it’s a mixed bag as the rail sector is still dragging its feet on key issues.

With plenty of reasons to complain, complaints have risen 7.5% from 2015-16. And what’s more alarming is the regulator’s report reveals that more than half of people weren’t satisfied with the way their complaints were handled.

One of our rail campaign supporters, Phillip, told us

‘My wife and I have written to complain on a number of occasions. In some cases we have had a response, but on others occasions, nothing.’

Do you think your train company puts you first?

No - I don't think it does (76%, 1,024 Votes)

Sometimes (14%, 195 Votes)

Yes - I've had a good experience with my train company (7%, 89 Votes)

Not sure (3%, 44 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,352

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Trains on track

In our view, the need for an ombudsman that all train companies have to sign up to, so complaints can’t be ignored, is stronger than ever.

We know that passengers also still have difficulty finding the best ticket for their journey and getting compensation when their train is delayed. Despite being a Which? employee I still struggle know if I’m getting a fair price for tickets – the way the system works simply isn’t fair.

Although, twelve train companies have now signed up to a voluntary price guarantee which will refund the difference if you could’ve bought a cheaper ticket. This will apply when information given to you is confusing or you didn’t have the right info to purchase the right ticket. So keep an eye out for any refunds you think you might be due!

Train improvements

While we do appreciate that changes are afoot, with activity around ongoing work on the ticketing action plan that we worked on with train companies and the government in December 2016, much more needs to be done to improve services now.

We’re pressing for a strong regulator that is going to drive action right to the end of the track.

Do you feel that enough is being done to improve train services? What more would you like to see?

bishbut says:
27 July 2017

Has any regulator of anything the proper powers to enforce anything they want doing ? They all say somebody must do all these things but only a few of what should be done ever get done and those take a long time owing to objections usually from some MP or the service involved Give the regulators legal powers to enforce immediately at once if not sooner


Since most of the problems identified – other than the dirt, which comes from the passengers – lay at the door of the Department of Transport, why are they not the target of this onslaught?

I can see this becoming another red-hot topic over the next few days as the usual whinges are trotted out for the umpteenth time. How about some suggestions for improvement for once instead of constant carping? Oh, there is one – let’s have another Ombudsman . . . that’ll make it better on the 7:45 to London Bridge won’t it?

Roger says:
30 July 2017

Along with the unions the over paid and intransigent civil servants with ‘golden’ pensions are the main cause of problems and not just with the railways.


Perhaps I could, again, suggest staggered working hours and incentives to locate employers, public and private, out of the congested areas would reduce commuting hell?

I occasionally use the Chiltern line. It is clean and runs to time generally. Not all train lines are the same…….

I endorse what John says. Fine to have a moan, but more constructive to put proposals up for discussion. These days technology should allow us to find the cheapest ticket automatically. Swiping a registered card on entry and exit should show whether the train ran on time and automatically give compensation.
Running on time is affected by congestion and mishaps. My first para might help the congestion bit. Mishaps…well, happen. Just like car commuters run into delays.


Ticketing is an absolute shambles with the whole system and structure a hangover from British Rail’s day [twenty years ago] without any significant updating for modern conditions. This is because the Department for Transport has declined to make it fairer, easier to understand, and consistent across similar journey lengths. The current restrictions and permutations distort the market and make rail travel difficult for many people. It is high time tickets were sold separately for outward and return journeys so that it is possible to take advantage of different times, fare categories, and travelling conditions.The industry know what needs to be done but won’t do it because the complex fragmented nature of the franchise system makes it impossible to devise a structure that would be revenue-neutral upon implementation and the DfT will not contemplate making it happen and ending up having to compensate some companies for any detrimental imbalances. Maybe Viagogo should be asked to sort it out.

Granny says:
28 July 2017

Myself and my son travel frequently on Virgin East Coast Inverness to York. Twice there have been problems with cancellations of other trains causing overcrowding or problems with food and drink not being available. Each time when I complained, I was offered a complete full fare return journey of my choice and the other time a £40 voucher. I have found the service to run much more to time since Virgin took over. I cannot say the same for Scotrail however when I go to Edinburgh.

Klaus says:
28 July 2017

That hasn’t sadly been my experience.
Apart from trains having a lick of paint, ticket prices have increased significantly and it’s rare to find a cheap Advance ticket a few days on advance. Quite often air con now doesn’t work on the train carriages and crowding has increased. I assume the latter is a result of running fewer services.

Jimbo says:
28 July 2017

The rail companies on suburban lines are a private monopoly with subsidies from the tax-payer. Their is no competition, you travel with Northern Rail or ………. go by bus (also a private monopoly).The company comes first. Customers are a nuisance and treated as such. The carriages are 50 years old, polluting diesel, overcrowded and uncomfortable. It is 12st century Britain where business comes first and the customer is exploited. Cash cow rules OK.

It is meant to be this way – if not then the Government is incompetent. Whatever happened to competition?