/ 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?

Richard says:
28 July 2017

Why, on a project as critical as GWEP, did DfT/ORR allow Network Rail to select a design of OLE that was:
– untried in this country
– over engineered (requiring much deeper piled foundations)
– unaffordable within the budget
– uninstallable within the timescale
– unsightly in the extreme?

Why has the DfT announced that new diesel and petrol engined cars will no longer be sold after 2040 days after scrapping crucial electrification schemes and forcing operators to fit diesel engines to electric trains?

My service is Hourly BUT is not a clockface – ie memorisable timetable with services Exeter bound at 0813,0845, 0859, 0943, 1031,1051,1058, 1140,1157 – the service is usually a 2 car Railbus [Pacer] unless a Cardiff/Bristol – Plymouth/Paignton in which it’s 1 carriage with space for 1 bicycle or luggage (not both). The ticket machine – if working only takes OLD round £1 coins and the ticket office though advertised by GWR as open 0715- 1815 Mon- Fri and 0830- 1400 Saturday has to close everytime an 8 or 7 car HST or 4 car voyager leaves for beyond Exeter or Newton Abbot for passenger assistance and safety meaning that if you need a ticket you need to arrive at least 30 minutes before unless you have round pound coins or are prepared to pay a penalty fare and dispute it later. – more people are now driving to Exeter and using the Park & Ride. – yet had holiday time the Rivera Line is still rammed with passengers and can be as cramped as the Northen Line during evening peaks. GWR need to come up with a solution and soon.

I can’t really comment on other peoples’ problems, as I’m retired and have not had to commute into a city for the last 46 years . A friend and I regularly take long day trips and with sourcing advance singles to (sometimes) obscure stations, and knowledge of various day rangers, we rarely spend £60 (with railcard) for our trips from Ludlow or Kidderminster to places as distant as Dundee, Stranraer, Sunderland, Cleethorpes, the Felixstowe – Harwich ferry, Dover and Penzance – not to mention many other closer destinations. We have only twice had serious problems, which were adequately compensated. Arriva Trains Wales fares on the Cardiff – Manchester route are relatively high and the trains often crowded, but their franchise was let 15 years ago on the basis of no growth, during which time passenger numbers have more than doubled. Our main trains (class 175s) are good quality but unique and (one of the many problems of the stupid breakup of the rail system on privatisation), cannot be directly coupled to other types of train, which makes adding extra coaches impossible (even if they were available and the government were prepared to pay!). I agree that fare structures are completely illogical; when I checked the fare for a simple return trip on the Heart of Wales line for tomorrow, I was quoted two day return rates and three period returns, the most expensive being over six times the cheapest! We normally purchase at the privately run Ludlow station ticket office and we have always been offered the cheapest option.

Kate says:
29 July 2017

The only solution is to bring the whole railway system back into public ownership like every other country. What an utter failure privatisation was. We have railway lines in this country owned by foreign nationlised companies which make a profit from our misery. Utter madness.

The only parts of Great Britain’s railway system that are not under government control are the successful parts.

Kremmen says:
29 July 2017

There should be somewhere, with teeth, that we can complain to. I’ve already mentioned GWR’s ploy of turning local trains into express trains to improve their arrival statistics. Complaining to them falls on deaf ears.

With Crossrail repeatedly causing signalling issues GWR needs to out passengers first when issues arise.

Services, generally, year-on-year get gradually worse; dirty trains (especially toilets) and overcrowding (e.g. needing to stand for an hour/hour+ on a journey to Ebsfleet or London) just becomes the norm;and we stop complaining because no action appears to be taken (email apology does not constitute action in my mind) . Compared to travelling in EU, where services are cleaner, usually less crowded and trains run much closer to time/on time, and where the cost is so much less (if we are in the EU how can their Govt subsidise the service where ours doesn’t ?? – Political choice). We should be in a much stronger position to complain and have action taken. An Ombudsman does appear to be one way forward.

arriving for your train to go to liverpool for a hospital appointment with a spinal surgeon then told train is cancelled and will have to wait for next one is not funny then next train is late due to vandalism re electric cables stolen
having to phone hospital to explain and be told if your not here by a certain time then appointment is lost what a waste of money on tickets that you have no claim back on

My husband and I use the Northern Rail service to Liverpool, and sometimes there is litter on the floors, but on the whole, they are reasonably clean, though the windows could do with a clean, although they are supposed to go through the ‘wash’ process each day I always thought. Mostly they are on time, though should there be delays, it is always announced over the tannoy. Also, we have the occasion to use Virgin Trains when visiting my sister who lives down south, and these are clean and comfortable, and have always been able to get the tickets we book in advance for, so, yes, we are quit happy with the services we use on the occasions that we do, otherwise , most holidays are on the coaches.

The majority of the internal cleanliness problems are caused by passengers, many years under BR there weren’t the countless fast food venues that there are today, people bought their own sandwiches in a paper bag and took their rubbish away. BR trains were not washed very often, the windows were generally filthy. The Circle Line on the Underground was spectacular for the rubbish, non smoking carriages were ankle deep and the smoking carriages nearly knee deep! They only came off the line at the end of the day and then got shovelled out.
The best deals I ever got in those days was to travel on the Pullman from Kings Cross to Darlington, it cost 5 shillings, 25 pence extra, and you could have a really good dinner served at your seat,
The rush hour problem in London is caused by the masses of people who live in the suburbs to escape the high house prices and generally filthy air. I’m sure that many of those who work at a computer terminal could do that at home or at a regional centre.

I’d make one amendment to your observation: a lot of litter and rubbish issues are caused by a culture of resentment, often inculcated by parents who don’t imbue their children with an ethos that demands they dispose of litter properly.

Curiously, there is almost no litter or rubbish where we live and what there is has normally fallen off a bin lorry. Small communities stay tidier because there’s a sense among them that they’re all responsible for the condition of the village or settlement. Once they reach a certain size – and it’s not that large, interestingly – then there seems to be a sense that it’s someone else’s problem. I suspect a similar mindset relates to trains.

As an aside the dirtiest train we’ve used in many years was in Switzerland…

Many correspondents claim that fares are much lower on the Continent. I am not convinced that is generally the case but it would be good to have the facts. It would very helpful if Which? could do a small amount of useful research and get the fares for typical continental journeys that are roughly the same time of day and distance as a sample of Great Britain standard-class journeys. Articles and comments with no background information don’t get us very far.

This Conversation does not apply to Northern Ireland since the Province has its own separate state-run railway system which is not regulated by the ORR. Once again, in its London-centric way, Which? neglects to inform readers of this.

Eric Windgassen says:
31 July 2017

If you leave the railways to privateers, what do you expect. The journey from London to Manchester is often standing room only, and the prices are gross. Shows the respect the ruling class has for working people: zilch. Come on Jeremy, no respect for the class enemy!

Mike says:
31 July 2017

HS2 seems to be in the news frequently. Projected cost (2017) £34b. Just a drop in the ocean! And what will be the hoped for outcome , 125mph trains. In other words last century technology. Clearly whoever is in charge is unfit to manage a project like this. Get the Japanese or Chinese in to sort out the network and let’s see 300mph (at least) trains running. This not an impossibility, check maglev trains on You Tube. Then let’s see engine drivers that look interested in the job, dressed suitably, and capable of keeping to timetables. Cleaners who are properly supervised. Lastly externally clean trains, every day. It’s the norm in the far east why not here? As this is a part of their job (cleaners and drivers) why not tie punctuality to pay! Seems to me a good place to start.

I asked Merseyrail how is it that Transpennine can usually get a train from Newcastle to Liverpool on time but Merseyrail can only very seldom get a train on time from Hunts Cross to Southport. I commute to Manchester from Crosby every day and the worst part of my journey is the bit on Merseyrail. I was even threatened with a knife once but couldn’t find the guard to report it to.

The reason could be, Marjorie, that the Newcastle – Liverpool train has a lot of slack built into its timetable whereas the local Merseyrail services have no room in the timetable for any hiccups. The East Midlands trains that start at Liverpool Lime Street that we often catch to go thirty miles to Norwich invariably arrive on time but that is because they have been sitting at Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Peterborough for ten minutes each waiting for the timetable to ‘catch up’ with them.

Train from Taunton to London is often so full, many people have to stand (or sit on the floor) for the whole journey. Why can’t GWR simply add a carriage to the train. Surely those who have to stand should get their money back.