/ Travel & Leisure

Millions of rail passengers suffer poor train services


Depending on what time you catch a train your opinion of the service might be drastically different. Our recent survey shows leisure travellers seem to be getting a pretty good deal – spacious, clean, efficient trains. But commuters are seriously suffering.

When you ask a commuter what their thoughts are towards their train company they’ll probably tell you that their train is over-crowded, expensive, possibly slow, and delays happen far too often.

I know I’m one of them. I’m not alone either, when I catch up with my family our conversation regularly features a rail tale or two – delays, overcrowding, and the costs of our tickets.

But, then for others, such as my friend who’s a new mum, she thinks the train is great. And it is for her; it’s reasonably priced, free for the little one, easy to use, she gets a seat and there’s rarely a delay… but then again she is using off-peak trains.

There seems a distinct and growing gap between the satisfied and unsatisfied rail users. Shouldn’t we all have a good service regardless of the time of day?

Unsatisfied customers

We’ve seen some welcome changes to our railways over the last 20 years; importantly safety has improved, air-conditioning and electric doors are now on most trains, and the introduction of live departure boards. But none of these have really addressed the increase in passenger numbers.

What’s more, our recent survey of train passengers found that the vast majority (72%) of passengers don’t feel like they’re getting value for money on their train service. In particular commuting passengers feel particularly peeved; we found that 32% of commuters experienced delays on their most recent rail journey.

We assessed the impact of delays and asked commuters on the poor-scoring services to keep a journey diary. Bromley commuter, Vicky C, shared her video diary with us:

Now, not all train services are performing badly; some are doing quite well. Especially those long-distance services, our survey found that only 15% of leisure rail passengers experienced delays on their most recent journey.

But the bottom line is that rail users are paying more, using the networks more, and yet there’s a distinct gap in the quality of train services. Surely rail users deserve better.

Rail refunds

While there are a few areas where train companies could make improvements, delays to services are certainly a good place to start. The impact of a delay can be huge too.

As one supporter Jean, told us:

‘My train had to stand in a station for more than an hour and I had to pay £140 to take a taxi to London to make a hospital appointment. No compensation was offered at the time.’

So today we’re dropping in at some of the busiest train stations to speak with rail passengers about our campaign to Make Rail Refunds Easier and raise awareness of your rights to compensation if your train is delayed.

Back in December we used our super-complaint powers to call Office of Rail and Road to take action on rail delay compensation. If you too agree improvements to the refund process for rail delays are needed then back our campaign today.

So have you suffered a poor rail service recently? Do you think that train companies should do more to improve their services?


I’ve been a long suffering commuter (between Crowthorne & Paddington via Reading) who has had the misfortune of using FGW/GWR for decades. The service continues to deteriorate in every aspect.

Trains are regularly delayed / cancelled. There’s almost always severe overcrowding. Staff are more often than not rude or at the very least unhelpful. Toilets dirty, bluffet without change. Full sized bicycles allowed on peak services contrary to their own policy.

I regularly complain & have received some compensation & have met some managers. But to no avail.

Since Southern Rail “improved” their website, it’s virtually impossible to use. e.g Try to order a Day Travelcard, Crawley to London, with a Senior Railcard which costs £10.50 on the National Rail website. When you check-out, Southern Rail change the price to £27.55!!

Recently tried to catch a Great Northern train from Kings Cross to Peterborough. Timetable display refuses to display Platform until minutes before departure. We have to sprint past one or maybe two trains to reach our departing train. Station officials make snide comments to passengers and not one offers to assist parent struggling with toddler and scooter or elderly lady hauling suitcase.

An investigation by the Sunday People has revealed that train companies were paid £107m in compensation for delays by Network Rail last year, but only £26m of the compensation was passed on to delayed passengers.

Southern Rail recouped the most with a £28.5m payout for delays, yet only £1.6m was paid out to delayed Southern customers

Abellio Greater Anglia claimed back £8m and passed on £2.3m

Virgin said it received £15m in compensation and paid out £10.5m

Full article can be found here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/rail-firms-pocket-81million-train-7545449

Wayne Blackburn says:
16 March 2016

We could in theory have claimed for a delay last October. However we’d bought our tickets through Trainline and it wasn’t clear how to claim from them and claiming from Virgin (east coast) didn’t seem to be possible. I suspect we’re not alone in falling into a crack like that.

I am complaining about the abysmal refund policy on the trains. I bought return “Advance” tickets for two passengers from Doncaster to King’s Cross for Monday 25th April for £44 (£11 per person each way): these were late afternoon/evening travel tickets. However our evening concert in London was cancelled two days ago so we tried to reschedule our tickets for the same day (25th April) so that we would be in London earlier in the day (to do something else in London).

The crux of the matter is that we were offered only £2 per passenger refund on the £44 paid and would have had to pay a further £96 for new tickets. We think this is a scandal and is one of the issues that ought to be tackled by Which.

DR. Paul Lavigueur

It seems to me that the only way the government will be able to afford to improve the railway system that the majority of the population use and complain the most about i.e. the local commuter systems throughout the north and south of the country, will be to abandon HS2 . This would release the funds to enable the whole transport system outside London to be updated. The north of the country has been neglected for too long. Every report I read on HS2 points to it being a total white elephant and a complete waste of tax payers money, not to mention the effect it will have on the environment.

We could improve commuting, both road and rail, if we did two things:
– stagger working and educational hours
– move business away from large cities – London in particular – to locations that are less populated, pleasanter, cheaper housing (and more land) with shorter journeys.

Perhaps Which? could run a poll comparing likely journey times and ticket prices on conventional routes vs. high speed to see just who would choose to use HS2. Oh, and how many might no longer make the journey by road.