/ 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?


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?

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.

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?

Ella says:
28 July 2017

re: John Ward’s comment – passengers make a mess – agreed, but train companies needs to improve their cleaning standards. Putting profits first results in poorer standards all round.

Yes i quite agree, Ella.

I caught a bit of Watchdog on TV last night and they had a piece on the standards of cleanliness on trains showing muck on the floors that had clearly been there some time, embedded grime on the undersides of the toilet seats and elsewhere in the cubicles that was much more than just one day’s deposits, and bacterial contamination on door handles and the seat-back trays. When confronted by videos of these scenes, a man from the Rail Delivery Group [stupid title], representing the train operating companies, launched into his pre-prepared spiel about how thousands of cleaners every single night went through all the trains and thoroughly cleansed them so that they were in good condition for the day’s traffic. All he could say when challenged with the evidence was that there was still room for improvement. He only showed any signs of embarrassment when the presenter said that the spokesman’s return journey from London Euston to Manchester, where the programme was made, would have cost any normal passenger around £300 and for that sort of money cleanliness and hygiene should be beyond reproach. He didn’t have an answer to that.

The programme included some swab tests of bacterial contamination of various parts of the carriage that passengers have to touch like the door controls. Generally on the trains tested, from three different companies, these were the most satisfactory surfaces and showed that they were being cleaned properly. But the seatback trays were frequently dirty and badly contaminated and it was suggested that people were unwittingly transferring this from the toilets to the area where they might eat a snack. The cleaning staff were obviously not bothering to unclip the fold-down trays and give them a proper clean and if the toilet areas were also being skimped then the health risks were multiplied.

john heathcote says:
28 July 2017

the railway companies do not employ ONE PERSON to dirty our trains but employ hundreds to clean them, you will find its the travelling public that make the trains dirty

ALL companies seem to put profits first the consumer who makes the profits for them is always last way way behind all other things

Julian says:
28 July 2017

Despair of privatised railways. Run to make profit not to serve those of us who bought the trains, paid for their manufacture, paid again for a ticket, and lost the lot when the service ran significantly late or was cancelled incurring costs to recover our journey in time to get there by alternative means. These buccaneer owners are to be despised and the Department of Transport which spent £28 million on consultancy fees designing a train to run on electric and carry diesel fuel and engines as well need to be certified. Pathetic – and people keep voting for the lunatics who created this mess

Norrie says:
28 July 2017

In Scotland we have a different service . Please get an education

Ken says:
28 July 2017

The rail companies and Network Rail appear to me to be equally incompetent but frequently the passenger will not know who was responsible for a particular delay. One issue for which the rail companies can clearly be held responsible though is the atrocious standard of clealiness in train toilets. Cleaners cost money of course.
In this country the regulatory bodies who are supposed to protect consumer interests are invariably useless.

This is becuase like most so called regulatory bodies they are a complete joke designed to give jobs to civil servants NOT to solve problems. The UK is a dire outbof date country.

Rail operators and infrastructure companies are simply in existence to make money. Passengers are regarded as the fuel of income generation and how they’re treated is of little interest. Successive governments (of both colours) have paid lip service to issues of service improvement, relying on the toothless regulator system to calm ever more troubled water.
We were promised that rail (and bus for that matter) privatisation and deregulation would improve matters by adding a competitive element to services, keeping fares down and services at high levels. Clearly neither has happened. I wouldn’t have committed my dog to suffer the journey I endured this week.
Privatisation doesn’t work. It simply allows operators to do as they will and impose appalling service levels on a customer base which can’t fight back.
Time, politicians, for a complete rethink; perhaps to consider again that transport is national issue and not simply a means to an end for profit generation.

All pie in the sky so far as a rail regulator goes. Send the current lot to Japan and see how a rail service should be run. Observe the train staff in white gloves! When enquiring about a particular station before Osaka I was told the timetable stated the train arrived at 1528, response’ get out of your seat at 1526 and make for the exit door’ Typical description of Japan Rail. Here we are in 2017 about to spend billions on HS2 (?) that will speed (?) trains to 125mph when Japan and China have maglev trains running at 600mph.

The world record speed for Maglev is only 450mph. The tragedy is that we invented it.

It’s gone along way from being the Birmingham International Station to Birmingham Airport shuttle. Like all English Inventions it took a hard working country to make it work.

In my opinion the whole of England, Wales and Scotland are stuffed to the gills, and beyond, with people who shouldn’t be here. The country is hopelessly overpopulated – immigration levels are ridiculous. This results in the terrible problems with the trains, the NHS and housing. it all seems pretty straightforward and simple to me. How to fix it is not so simple. But surely a stop can be put to uncontrolled immigration. You simply cannot stuff more and more people onto this island.

You are so right, Im shocked they have allowed your comment.

[Sorry, your comment has been removed for being off-topic. Plesae ensure your comments align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

[Sorry, your comment has been removed for being off-topic. Plesae ensure your comments align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

I’ve reported one of these comments (00;01) as “offensive”.

Agree Malcolm…. and nothing happened ….

It’s the weekend free-for-all Vynor.

I’m not sure, really. I didn’t like it when I read it, but it’s phrased carefully, avoiding any reference to Race or religion. Yes – it’s ignorant and uninformed, certainly, but that’s never been a reason for removing posts.

Mmm – agree to differ, Ian. Not civilised language. Highlighting a particular part of the population and wishing they were incinerated. That’s offensive to me, as is the unnecessary and insensitive reference to a tragic occurrence.

I didn’t see any reference to incineration, Vynor. That would certainly have changed my view.

“Burn” = incinerate. Not at all an appropriate post.

We’re obviously talking about different posts, Malcolm. I’m referring to the post which seems to head this thread by one Harry Tyler. I went no further back since that is the point of inset threading.

Ah: now I see the satirical post by one Nick Scales. I assumed his use of irony and satirical reference was fairly obvious – but perhaps not.

This is why we need a quote facility.

I would not describe it as ironic and satirical; at the very least it is in very bad taste.

Much satire often is.

[Sorry Lesley, your comment has been removed as the comment you’ve quoted no longer exists. Thanks, mods]

FWIW, I thought the thread top post by Harry Tyler was both inappropriate (as in its references to immigration controls being off topic) and offensive (e.g. to our foreign co-workers) so I reported it when it first appeared.

It then seems to have triggered sarcastic responses from Nick Scales. Personally, I didn’t find them offensive but I can accept that others have done so.

As ever, one should never knowingly feed any trolls and the genteel standards that we expect to maintain on here may well be alien to those more accustomed to other posting environments. For example, the comments fields that accompany youtube videos seem to be a complete free-for-all.

It’s tricky. I share your view, Derek, but I can see others may well be offended. It’s a bit like pornography. One person’s offensive material is another’s art.

If a post is considered offensive then surely it is better to click on ‘Report’ rather than publicising the post and having an off-topic discussion about it.

Which remain remarkably silent. On of the joys of this site is the way it is conducted. This might seem a little restrictive but it stops those who wish to paste gratuitous unpleasantness from doing so, while still allowing legitimate discussion of difficult topics. I take the satirical reference to the inhabitants of the burned tower but not the inference that others might be dealt with in the same way.

My local train operator, Merseyrail is neither better nor worse than it was a year ago. In fact it made the top position ( just) in the recent National Rail Passenger Survey, and has usually been in the top three. The only fly in the ointment, is the recent series of one-day strikes by guards in protest about the introduction of ‘driver only operated trains’. The company did however manage to run a less frequent, but acceptable service, using fully trained management staff.

Robert Storey says:
28 July 2017

My experience over the last year has been good when using trains into Kings Cross and also to Heathrow from St Neots.
I travel once per month and early trains have been almost spot on with times apart from an occasional issue. Recently a pantograph failed in the station at St Neots and we were told either take the next train in 20 minutes or wait for the defective train to be sorted out. I chose to wait as the next train would be crowded and we got away just after the other but were about 30 minutes late in total at Kings Cross.
However, all passengers were kept fully informed all the time I was on the train with reasons for the delay and at every stop new passengers were also given the reason for the delay. My view is that Great Northern handled the situation very well!

Great Anglia has improved since it got the franchise last year. Delay claims online are normally paid within 3-5 days. I commute everyday from Ipswich to Liverpool Street. The issues they have are old unreliable rolling stock (all being replaced) and poor infrastructure which is Network Rail and the Govt responsibility.

Having voted not improved, I gave up trying to travel on the train four months ago. This was down to the daily failures of the system in and around London which , Chiltern Rail has little to no control. HS2 will not improve things by any stretch of the imagination in fact it will struggle to deliver on the wonderful and fanciful journey times it is boasting.

In reality, I do not think that the service s I use have changed for better or worse in the last year.
The last memorable change was their switch over to new Siemens rolling stock.
We’re still ripped off with chronically high prices (especially to Euston) when compared to continental systems in my experience. Here, we cannot even predict which platform a train is due on much in advance nor manage to get platforms level with carriage doors-etc etc.

My train provider didn’t get off to the best of starts today, cancelling one of my usual trains and then claiming that there was a defective train blocking all his services further up the line.

Why can’t the railway system have a decent means to move stuck trains out of the way? Oh, of course –
– they’ve only had 178 years to think of something!

Something from the Rail Regulator? That makes a change – usually nothing is heard from this person from one year to the next and the rail companies are allowed to run riot. The fares go up, the service gets worse and now the electrification schemes are cancelled to pay for the high speed link to the midlands and Crossrail 2 for London! Cancel these vanity schemes and spend the money getting the rest of the network electrified and up to 21st Century standard, and then talk about special lines to the midlands and the north.

Punctuality, cleanliness hasn’t changed much from being mediocre. Communication – i.e. information about stops, changes at junctions, is abysmal. It’s left up to train drivers/guards to make announcements, and few bother. No good for a line (Hereford – Birmingham, London Midland) with a lot of visitors / airport travellers. Almost no ticket checks en route. I know many passengers to/from intermediate stations no longer bother to buy before travelling even when facilities are available. However, staff at Hereford (which is Arriva Trains Wales) are unfailingly helpful.