/ 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?


Having a customer representative will do nothing to improve Stagecoach’s East Coast route. Trains are frequently cancelled because of “breakdowns” and passengers from two trains are crowded into one meaning that seat reservations are meaningless. This is not a nice experience if you have stand on your bad legs. Who checks if the “breakdowns” are real and not just an excuse to save money. Same thing happens with cross-channel ferries at slack periods.

Paul says:
1 November 2017

Passenger representation on the board cannot make any difference unless that representation is so pervasive and makes up such a large proportion of the board that the representatives’ views cannot be ignored by the board as a whole. Without sufficient power to make their views stick, it’s a token gesture at best – the representatives would be patted on the head and ignored. Far better would be a regulator with actual teeth, informed by properly put together customer surveys and the like and with powers to force the train operating companies to comply. That might frighten them into doing the right thing, but would more likely cause the TOCs to engage in endless litigation or withdraw to move their investment elsewhere to avoid a perceived harsh regulatory regime… perhaps it might result in renationalisation by default?

I’m supposing you mean like the energy regulator that allowed a 12.5% increase recently .. now that is something that seems like a waste of public money. The only way to change anything is to stand up, together, and make it clear that we won’t tolerate the situation .. whatever it might be. The way to tell if the people are getting value for their money is to look at the financial accounts. Any company which gives poor value and generates excessive profits they should be forced to change their ways, and the solution is not to fine them and permit government to disappear the fine.

I live on one of the worst lines for disabled customers – Northern Rail are still using the oldest rolling stock which is inaccessible, and refusing to allow mobility scooters.
But at least I used to have a decent route to London if I paid a £50+ taxi fare first. Until it got re-privatised and all the cheapest off-peak fares disappeared, putting it out of my price range. Plus all the ‘late’ Sunday trains have been cancelled so my one or two trips to London every month (and often first class at less than £40), are now once or twice a year as it’s become a luxury at around £300 to travel and stay over as the last train to the north leaves at 9 pm!
Meetings are all via Skype instead.

There isn’t much wrong with Virgin Trains except the prices and I don’t think having one or two customer representatives on the board would make any difference at all!

Southeastern have high hikes in fares and usually deliver a distinctly substandard service with trains nearly always at least 5 minutes late.

I’ve written to my MP and Southeastern about adopting some of the far better initiatives that Southwest Trains has, such as quiet carriages (so that very loud people can be avoided), keeping feet off seats, guard walk-through and space for bikes and wheelchairs but heard nothing back.

1 November 2017

I live at a seaside town every 4 weeks I go 2 a beauticians 2 train stops away, during the 6 weeks holiday it’s like a stampede of wilderbeast, people queing with the biggest suitcases at least 5 kids & a pram, I queue patiently & more often than not can’t get on the train as it’s full. The last time I pushed 2 the front & got on as I’m on my own with no luggage. The trains are out the ark u could run quicker &the prices have gone up yet I’m getting nothing extra for that. I wish they would bring Virgin trains here at Skegness no one would have 2 worry about getting a seat !!

Any meeting will come with preconceived ideas by the industry on what they want to do and a single lone voice not aware of how the ideas have been put together will be talked down because they do not have sufficient information to form an argument against.
A better idea would be to form a consumer group to tell the industry what is expected and the bosses to go away and return with a plan to implement ideas or reason factual why they can’t be implemented.

alison Morris says:
1 November 2017

I have been a Southern commuter for about 30 years and over that time I have seen some improvements – ie half hourly service off peak and the removal of the old slam door trains which had doors by every set of seats – however over the past 2-3 years the level of service has plummeted, specifically due to the imposition of DOO on some routes which has resulted in short notice cancellations, and future plans to remove the 3 direct trains per day that run between my branch line (Seaford) through to Victoria (two in the morning and one in the evening), without any benefits. Seaford and Eastbourne commuters are regularly treated as second class citizens when compared to the west coast, with our trains (or our part of the train that divides at Haywards Heath) being cancelled when there are problems and connections not being held at Lewes because they don’t allow enough time for the train to split at Haywards Heath or join together at Victoria. Last year I got back over £700 through delay repay claims but I would rather have a reliable train service, ideally with a train that left after 11pm in the evening as 22.47 is too early for many west end shows – another one at 23.17 would be ideal!
Going back to the question being asked, I guess that its possible that having passenger representatives on the Board may make some feel uncomfortable as they would have to hear our complaints, but realistically it will make little difference at Southern because the Government is driving the agenda.

You are lucky. The last train from Waterloo to catch the last ferry to the Isle of Wight is 2100 hours, and during the recent works at Waterloo this was brought forward half-an-hour! It is impossible to go to a show in London or anything else there in the evenings.

C Hudson says:
1 November 2017

Abellio Greater Anglia runs trains using motive power and rolling stock which in many cases are nearing the end of their working lives. The passenger satisfaction ratings it regularly receives are among the lowest, but it has no competition on the routes it runs so complaints are pointless. Passenger representation would be a step in the right direction, but a token presence to allow the railway franchises to look as if they were listening would make things even worse, so sufficient numbers and sufficient powers to bring about change would have to be built into that representation for it to have any effect. As it is, all the franchises are allowed to provide the minimum level of service they can get away with for the maximum amount of profit.

Sorry to be cynical but this looks like ‘window dressing’ by the government. The contracts are controlled by Dept of Transport, which almost dictate the poor conditions and service. However, since we cannot seem to get through to them, maybe something like customer representatives who actually have a vote on the rail company boards would help turn this around.

It may well do – it is not always clear that Board Members actually ride their own product! In Scotland the problem would be who to pick. Edinburgh – Glasgow commuter? Frequent long – distance traveller? User of the Far North Line?

I’m for it in principle though

“yorkshireman02 says:
Today 16:06

Any meeting will come with preconceived ideas by the industry on what they want to do and a single lone voice not aware of how the ideas have been put together will be talked down because they do not have sufficient information to form an argument against.
A better idea would be to form a consumer group to tell the industry what is expected and the bosses to go away and return with a plan to implement ideas or reason factual why they can’t be implemented”

I beleive that this contribution sums up the futility of a single representitive. Power will only come from numbers.

The only solution is to re nationalise our railways , we are made to subsidise them far more now than we ever did when the railways were in public hands but for what ? . The fact is that these ” private ” companies are actually for the most part foreign nationalised out fits that use the money that they rip out of British rail passengers and the British tax payers to subsidise their own countries railways . this is an outrageous situation that must be stopped . if its ok to have foreign public companies milking us why isnt it ok to have our railways back in our hands” but properly managed” and using the reasonable profits earned to plough back into our rail system .

Sandra New says:
1 November 2017

I totally agree with you.

Bill says:
2 November 2017

Yes nationalisation is the only answer. It is no use having representation on an already broken system. This is just a move to divert the attention from the real solution of nationalisation. It about trying to give some credibility to the operating companies and the illusion of responding to customer needs.

As the government , Network Rail and ALL Rail Companies keep saying they are having record numbers travelling, then it’s about time they slashed their fares by at least 40% to bring us in line with European Railways.

Winston says:
1 November 2017

Having customer representation on the Board must go hand in hand with a stated commitment to incorporate into plans what customers seek. The commitment must be binding on the Rail Companies.

Joanna Herbert-Stepney says:
1 November 2017

Scrap HS2 – it costs billions and saves minutes. That would pay for quantities of improvements!

Having served on committees before a lone voice would not make any difference .If it is made up of 6 people and then it is 5 against 1.

I agree with those who say token representation on boards won’t change things. Nor to I think regulation even with teeth will change things. Nobody ever gets anything more than a rap over the knuckles with British style regulation – look at FSI and Bank of Scotland – Britain, the land on non-accountability. If we are to stop being the European country where train passengers pay the most and get the worst deal, if we are to put in the new infrastructure and lines so that the whole country and especially my region, East Kent, is not choked by freight (more so when the new Dover Western container Port coincides with the gridlock of leaving the customs union), we need to RENATIONALISE.

Southwestern Railways , formerly South west Trains, took over 2 months to refund my fares after a horrendous delay in August. In all fairness, they gave me , in addition, 2x£10 travel vouchers as an apology for the delay in replying to me. My other ” beefs ” is the length of time waiting to be answered. and total lack of information following signal failures whilst waiting at Waterloo to get home to The Isle of Wight. We are elderly and in poor health and I am registered partially blind. However, they are superb with Assisted Travel.

I don’t think anything will sort out our railway system not while it is privatised, the bosses are too greedy. They need to be nationalised now