/ Travel & Leisure

Train pains: how would you want passenger views represented?

Train station

A £50bn investment plan to change Britain’s railways has been unveiled with proposals to improve customer representation. So how would you want your voice heard?

Every day, millions up and down the country travel on Britain’s trains. While some may be happy with their service, we know there are thousands, at the very least almost 100,000 who have added their name to our rail campaign, that all-together really aren’t that happy.

Well today, train companies, suppliers and Network Rail have joined together and laid out their plans to invest and improve our railways. And one way that better rail experience will be delivered is through improved customer representation. So how would you want to be represented?

Passenger experiences

The industry’s trade association, the Rail Delivery Group, announced the ‘In Partnership for Britain’s Prosperity’ plan today. This plan includes a proposal for a ‘stronger voice for customers in England and Wales with customer representation on joint supervisory boards, or an equivalent – a partnership between the rail industry and customer groups’.

The full details of what this really means aren’t yet clear. While we’re keen to hear more, we want it to be clear that if this is going to have any meaningful impact then passengers need to be put first in these plans.

As a commuter, I vary in the opinion of my train operator. I regularly get a seat on the way into London, it’s often on time and overall it’s a pretty quick service with regular trains.

However, I rarely get a seat on the way home as platforms are announced a few minutes before departure, so I’m often the one crammed into the doorway with my head awkwardly positioned dangerously close to someone else’s armpit; quite a few of the trains are pretty grotty and one train has an odd cheesy smell; when the service goes down it’s total pandemonium and as though they’ve never dealt with such a situation before; and I pay a small fortune for my ticket, which also seems to go up in price at every opportunity.

Overall, I’m not terribly happy with my train company but it seems I should be because it’s not the worst… Currently, my frustrations with the service are directed at its Twitter handle. I also make sure that I claim for a delay and cancellation even though it often works out as just a few quid.

I complain and claim simply because I want my train company to know I’m not that happy with the service and I do think they could do better. But in truth, I don’t think the message gets through as nothing changes.

Customer voice

The industry’s proposal to give customers a stronger voice is to have some sort of customer representation on boards.

And while we’re keen to see what this proposal actually means and what it looks like, we certainly think that consumers represented on boards are a good idea in general.

But how do you think this could make a difference for you? How would you want your views heard? Do you think there’s more that your train company could be doing to deliver a better service?


Representation needs regional opinion included. Different areas of the country have very different experiences. It should not be London centric. Geographical areas furthest away from London need rail electrification ‘The Manchester-Leeds scheme would be just the latest to be axed by the Government. The Sheffield, Swansea, and Windemere schemes were all quietly cancelled this week’. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/northern-powerhouse-manchester-leeds-electrification-scheme-scrapped-bimodal-trains-a7855046.html please notice nothing in the North East region even been mentioned even though this where it all started!

Well said! I was beginning to think I was the only one to notice the total exclusion of the north east of England in any of the grandiose schemes. As for representation I wonder how much the representatives of the people would actually influence corporate decisions?

Non whatsoever, they are owned by foriegners who like British owners live and die by profit. They may just pretend to listen to the customer rep before ignoring them out of hand but then make a big play about letting the consumer have it’s say before making ‘whatever’ decision. Pure makeup. The Utilities should be run by the Government as it used to be , on a ‘not for profit basis’. I am not a Labour voter but this is the only thing me and Corbett see eye to eye on. Before anyone says that privatization is more ‘efficiant’, BT were making £4.5 Billion clear profit before privatization, which went into Gov coffers, why would you sell something that makes the taxpayer £4.5 Billion? Simple profits for big business. Although a % of shares went to Mr & Mrs ordinary Folk, the vast majority went to the Institutional stockbrokers, big business, and the Gov knew that in time big business would offer the Mr & Mrs Ordinary a price for their shares they were unlikely to refuse, so big business gets all the shares. Lo and behold the Utilities are now in the hands of Foriegn Govs would you believe because they offered a price the institutions could not refuse. So it ends up that Mr & Mrs Ordinary not only no longer have shares, but are having to pay those who do have them. because of profit grabbing, BT now makes an average £2.5 Billion despite s******g the users well and truly. How much will the £4.5 Billion made in the 60s be valued at today? The smartest thing the train passengers can do is buyshare cars and tell the train companies where to put their trains.

I suppose they are cutting rail links ” up north ” because of that new rail line they are going to build, they also need a seperate carriage for bikes ‘ I don’t mind paying an extra two quid for the carriage, instead if being told there’s no room and having to wait for the next train

“The industry’s proposal to give customers a stronger voice is to have some sort of customer representation on boards.” I totally agree that the consumers requirements should be represented in all organisations in one way or another.

A consumer representtative is only one step. The problem is, how do you give this consumer representative a proper view of what the consumer wants. This can only be done by a reliable survey of consumers, determining the majority view and priorities. The representative will be just a conduit for the general view.

And how do you get this general view? That requires careful planning of surveys, selection of respondents, assessment of results. A job, perhaps, for Which?

Do the efficient, good value, punctual German railways have a system for passenger representation? If so, research it, and see if it can be use in the UK. Why reinvent the wheel?

C.Gale says:
1 November 2017

Don’t know about customer representation but the idea of German efficiency is a bit of a myth . They work on the concept that they have a system that should work & most of the time they do , but when gliches occur chaos ensues , Which is totally different to British inefficiency & muddling through !

£85 billion??????? Is it April 1st?????????

I can think of many things £85 billion pounds would be better spent on.

Reducing the need to commute could be one part of a proper plan, alfa? Is transport, though, more important than social care and unblocking NHS beds? We seem obsessed with travel; perhaps it is an obsession we could address in better ways.

I have now read the link malcolm. Some improvements are probably overdue, but it still seems a lot of money when you consider other services that are in crisis.

No Malcolm people today are obsessed with speed Do everything as fast as possible which is not fast enough fore some

Quite right. The whole country seems to be full of people going some place they aren’t. Sadly, efforts to arrange for big businesses to provide housing close to people’s workplace (as the Quakers did in the past) does not work any more, because people always want to live somewhere else. Working from home has increased, so this should have made a difference but does not seem to have done so. Likewise video conferencing and skpe meetings should have reduced travel; but again, no sign that it has. One key is the fact that everything happens in London – or at least is seen to. More businesses moving out and settling elsewhere might help – it would be cheaper for them; but they do not seem to be able to think outside the ‘London’ box

I’ve just spent a while searching for the headline of this piece and it doesn’t seem to exist. All that does is this:

The RDG commissioned research which predicted that Britain’s railway would secure almost £85bn of extra economic benefits for the country by connecting people to jobs, housing and new business opportunities.

This is in addition to the existing £31bn the industry currently delivers each year, according to the study.”

Now, if an intelligent person like Alfa can be duped into believing that the headline figure represented a cost to the fare paying passengers instead of a net gain for the economy, perhaps the headline was poorly presented?

LOL !!! To be fair Ian, I didn’t exactly read the intro and links properly in the first place.

I did my stint on trains in my younger years as I couldn’t afford to run a car until well into my 20’s and thankfully don’t rely on them any more so my interest in trains is now minimal.

This is presumably the report. https://www.raildeliverygroup.com/about-us/publications.html?task=file.download&id=469773423. The investment is given as “£50 bn+ into the early 2020s”, and the benefits include time saved by shorter journey times, less congestion on roads. There is also a £33 bn from HS2, based on the 2013 report (which was, if I remember, never fully published and heavily disputed for its basis. I may be wrong. I support rail improvements and hope HS2 will be used for freight at night to get more goods vehicles off our roads.

I think saving money by reduced journey times for individuals is a rather fragile argument.

Give a voice ? But will some power be given so that suggested changes for the better will be done or just debated for years Voice without some power ??

Mim Brigham says:
1 November 2017

I fully realise that the main users who will be asked are going to be commuters as they have the greatest investment in the railway but I see little about those of us in the far reaches of the country who would love to be able to use the rail network but the cost is just prohibitive particularly when more than one person is travelling – so back to the car and pollution

The problem is this, consumers will generally want fair prices, a seat, modern trains with all the necessary facilities, fast travel times. All of these will need to be paid for in some way, whilst the shareholders of the rail companies will want a return for the money they have invested. The rail system is also fragmented with the infrastructure, the trains themselves and the franchises owned by different entities, all of whom will have differing priorities. So whilst I am not against consumers on the boards of rail companies what will they actually be able to achieve? To me the key point is Investment, sadly lacking in sufficient quantity even though the government has since the financial crisis been able to borrow money at the cheapest rates in hundreds of years and is also probably constrained by skills shortages in the civil engineering sector. We need a long term plan which is bought into by successive governments not just what can be done until the next election. Unfortunately in so many areas of government policy long term planning is sadly lacking. So yes consumers on the board but do not expect it to amount to much.

what is wrong with anticipating to have fair prices, a seat, and punctuality? speed is not everything. Peter’s argument points to the need for nationalisation. Profits should not be made from a daily essential service. Privatisation has led to fragmented infrastructure. In Germany – if one train is late – the connecting train usually waits so that passengers can continue their journey without too much of an inconvenience. There are also quite a lot of special offers which means small groups can travel the whole country at very low costs, or individuals can put together a very reasonably priced journey. The prices of rail tickets in the UK are extortionate.

Renationalise. Pay the right people the big money to get this running properly, country wide. The whole idea of competition and self regulation (what a joke!!!) being the leveler has failed our society as a whole. Year upon year the cartel of energy companies, water companies and rail providers report huge profits for their shareholders. This is the crux of the matter. Put the money back into the system, not into shareholders pockets. They are not interested in providing a better service. Why should they be when we are a captive market? We have no choice but to pay.
Shareholders are not prepared to reduce profits year on year – this is anathema to them.

Where is the evidence of big profits? They are very modest. The energy companies are only making 2-3%. Several train operating companies have handed back the keys or walked away from bidding for new franchises because they can make better returns on their investment elsewhere. Shareholders in train companies have certainly seen declining yields and lower share prices.

The service provided by the private train companies is far superior to how it was when British Rail ran the railways – twice as many passenger, far more trains in the timetable, newer rolling stock, better stations, and faster services. It’s the government that insists on the unfair fares structure, is in charge of Network Rail, and has defaulted on its modernisation and electrification plans. It’s the nationalised bit that doesn’t work but costs passengers and taxpayers a fortune.

I agree that having customers on the boards would be an improvement (not as big an improvement as bringing the railways back into full public ownership, as is the case with most of the very efficient railway systems in other European countries). I travel by train sporadically and my biggest issue is the ludicrously complex fare structure. Having done some train travel in continental Europe, I find the trains there are faster and cheaper, with much simpler fare structures.

It’s too easy for companies to delay short journey commuters’ trains to pass longer distance services in order to reduce the claims for delays to the latter. The time criteria they set means that my journeys of a few stops can be delayed by 120-140% before I qualify for compensation, even though a 50-80% delay means I miss my intended connection, have to wait a quarter of an hour for the next one, arriving much later at my destination than the journey ought to take. Disproportionately long delays for the silent majority of short journey commuters are inequitable and upset more people than short delays for overly vociferous long-distance commuters who at least get financial recompense.

Our rail network reflects the British belief in low taxation and private ownership. It also reflects a belief that we do not deserve better.
If you do not believe this, try traveling on the French, Spanish, German, Italian or other European systems. The British system is slow, unreliable, often crowded, and often dirty, and expensive to use. Many trains run late regularly, and many connections advertised on the national rail web site are not reliable in practice. Major modern UK stations are often designed around shopping (prioritising private sector business) rather than swift efficient travel (as prioritised in systems built for public service).
To fix this we might start by experiencing travel on the trains in Europe, then return to the UK with higher expectations. Then we should review and revise our UK belief that we do not deserve better, and demand real investment in a decent rail network and decent trains, as a significant element of the low carbon integrated travel system that we deserve.
And while we’re at it, we could splash out on a decent one-stop national web site for planning journeys and purchasing tickets. We are worth it.

I think this is a diversion produced by the private railway companies, who suddenly, when threatened , have discovered ‘Rheinland capitalism’ (actual workers on company boards). No, what we need is complete re-nationalisation of the rail network , UK.

paul j says:
1 November 2017

The government has a political agenda for the rail industry that will not be influenced in anyway by passenger representation… waste of time…and just a smokescreen.

Having customers representation is only tinkling at the edges of the problem. The problem is transport is owned by private companies that need to make profit. Transport should be taken back into public ownership, And the excess insteading of going into government should be used to develop the railways.

Merseyrail and its antics are definitely added to my depression. I lodged a compliant in September and got an automated reply that I would get a response within 30days. Thought that was a long time and summed up Merseyrail. Needless to say the 30 days have passed and I’m still waiting.
Also I commute from Liverpool to Manchester every day. Quite often East Midlands send two carriages instead of four. You can imagine the crush. The other week when the train stopped at Widnes three bikes were squeezed on to an already overloaded train and one of the pedals cut my leg. No one was monitoring how many people were actually on that train. Must be a health and safety issue. In my experience people on the board etc don’t use the services they represent at the base level. I think a passenger representative on the board is an excellent start and I’d volunteer

Graham says:
1 November 2017

If you wanted to deliver a world class rail service for the nation, you would not start where we currently are. Vague promises of customer representation is a sop and will have zero impact. Privatisation has delivered a chaotic mess that does not work in the best interests of the paying passengers. We need fundamental strategic change to create a properly integrated and properly funded transport network alongside properly funded digital infrastructure investment that can mitigate the need to travel.

I am generally very satisfied with Chiltern Railways but I appreciate that there are areas where the service is pretty dire.

However, my experience of school parent govenors makes me a little wary of passenger representation.
It might work, but is not the solution. How would they be chosen and appointed ? It needs a lot of consideration if it is to work and maybe other initiatives might be more effective.

Something which is under the control of the train country will be useless. What we need is an effective Rail Regulator or Ombudsman that will really act on the day to day complaints of passengers with regard to reliability, overcrowding, customer service etc and force the train companies to act or provide compensation QUICKLY. There is currently no organization with any teeth that passengers can forward their grievance to.

The occasional Member of the Public/Customer on these Boards will make little/no difference. Unless and Until this indistry is re-nationalsied, or the Boards are required to have 55% customer representation on the Board things will just carry on as they are – with full focus on profit and little on service standards.