/ Travel & Leisure

Rail: are they wheelie on track to deliver better service?

Train tracks

It was bittersweet news for rail passengers last week – Southern passengers learned they’ll get compensated for the poor services they’ve endured of late, they, along all other rail users, discovered fares will rise by an average of 2.3% from 2 January. But, do you think your train service is improving?

If you’re one of Southern’s passengers then, the chances are that, this compensation offering is small fry for what you’ve endured recently.

And whether you’re a passenger of Southern or not, you may well be troubled by the news of fare hikes, which just so happens to be the largest average rise in three years.

Surely such an increase would be all the more palatable if you could be guaranteed improvements to your service?

Rail passenger rights

As some of you may recall, last year, we made our super-complaint to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), after our research into access to compensation for rail delays and cancellations found that millions was going unclaimed every year, with only around 34% of affected passengers actually claiming.

It was clear to us that not enough was being done to inform passengers of their rights to compensation. And so we launched our Make Rail Refunds Easier campaign and made a super-complaint to the ORR.

In November, the government responded to our super-complaint on compensation for rail delays. It confirmed that it supports all improvements recommended by the ORR.

Over the past year, alongside our almost 50,000 supporters, we’ve been campaigning to get train companies to make their passengers more aware of their rights to claim compensation for train delays and take steps to make the process of claiming easier.

Getting a better service

And indeed it seems that rail passengers should be expecting improvements. The government has agreed that much more is needed from train companies and it has set out its own plan to ensure the regulator and industry push through these improvements promised in response to our super-complaint.

In fact, today, the government announced plans to reform the way rail infrastructure is managed with a review of how Network Rail shares the running of the tracks with train companies. According to the government, its plan to coordinate track control between Network Rail and train companies will improve the daily running of railways and therefore improve services for passengers.

Some of you will also recall that back in October, after waiting and waiting, we finally saw an extension of compensation rights for rail passengers to be included under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

And at the same time it was announced that rail passengers will be able to claim ‘Delay Repay’ compensation when trains are delayed by 15-29 minutes. Previous rules had only enabled passengers to claim for delays of at least 30 minutes.

This new compensation threshold will be introduced in a staggered roll-out, starting with Southern passengers, who will be able to claim for these delays from 11 December. Dates for other train companies are yet to be confirmed.

On the right track?

So, while it would seem that we could well be on the right track to seeing real improvements for passengers, much more is needed to get rail passengers a fairer deal and a better service. With improvements promised but still yet to be delivered, our work here is far from over.

Announcements on next steps for Which?’s rail campaign will be coming soon. But in the meantime, tell us: do you think train services are improving? What else would you like to see to to improve your train service?

Paul Graveson says:
6 December 2016

As a car driver I’m happy to subsidise rail if it reduces traffic on UK roads, the current congestion levels are a blight on the country and increasing fairs is not going to solve the problem.


I used to take my bicycle to travel round London. They have made this almost impossible. Is this progress ?

Virginie says:
6 December 2016

Thameslink are most definitely not improving. I have been living in Sutton for over 3 years and I can witness it is in fact getting worse and worse. There isn’t a day without delays. They promised us new trains, and so far I have only been on them twice! There are constants delays and cancellations because of faulty or broken down trains, you would think they would fix them for good or replace them? I feel absolutely robbed for paying over £200 for such an appalling service. I can honestly say I am looking forward to getting out of Greater London and not having to rely on trains to get to work anymore.

It is not acceptable for unions to be striking to retain a role for conductors on modern trains. England would be an international laughing stock if the rail companies give in. (Not sure about Scotland). A reasonable compromise must be struck. Rail employees are already well paid compared to many, and UK rail fares are among the highest in Europe and a real cause of concern for low-paid passengers.
If union intransigence persists, we should accelerate the introduction of driverless trains (like the DLR).

John says:
6 December 2016

You talk as if the fundamental problem is the unions-do you think if you had driverless trains then it would be reliable, punctual and economical? Of course not. UK fares are higher because in all other modern European countries they subsidise fares as part of an integrated transport system . Our government has consistently eroded any subsidy and shareholders insist on year on year increases to maximise their return.

Alan Bond says:
6 December 2016

This is about safety and you remember that ‘the trade unions’ are people who are being kicked from pillar to post by a right wing extremist government with the able assistance of greedy train operators. The problem is privateers milking us for all they are worth. The railways need to be re-nationalised and run properly asap. You are out of touch with reality in the same way as Southern trains and this government.

[This comment has been taken down for breaching our community guidelines, https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/, which clearly state that we will remove comments that others might find offensive, threatening or abusive. Thanks, mods.]

Chris says:
7 December 2016

Why can we not create a nationwide movement to renationalise the railways.
One rail firm failed. The company then ran as a publicly owned company and made good money for the Government. All swept under the carpet and now privatised again, so that the Government can make good money again from the licence and then make their friends richer,

Daniel Vulliamy says:
6 December 2016

Sad to see Virgin Vultures destroying the excellent East Coast line bequeathed by the public sector, then having the gall to go for maximum allowed price increase.

Roger Yates says:
6 December 2016

I thoroughly agree; Virgin feel entitled to increase their fares to whatever astronomic rates they want.
Isn’t this the way that monopolies work? De Facto, Virgin operate a monopoly on the East Coast line (and elsewhere) and as such should be subject to examination by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

I am a disabled passenger, and the service I get is appalling to say the least. I have been left in trains trying to get someone to bring the ramp for me to get off, I have prearranged arrival at a station to get on and finish up chasing someone to help me get a ramp to get on the train… It is so bad at London stations and a lot of the underground is not possible because I need help.

I have given up travelling on trains because of the appalling service I have received. You arrange everything in advance and then they deny having heard from me… and you have to deal with 2 companies, the rail operator and Railtrack and they don’t seem to talk to each other at all.

People are being ripped off by Corporate psychopaths. Rail travel is far too high. The Rail network is out of date. It takes 4-5 hours to get from Norfolk to the North of England and you have to change 5 times and wait for hours on a cold platform. They should be paying us to travel on their overcrowded not fit for purpose rail services. There are only a minority of destinations where there is a direct link. East of England has been left out of rail improvements. Its now 2016 and the Rail networks are abyssal. Why should I have to suffer in the freezing cold waiting for 5 trains and be overcharged in the process. This is out of order. The Rail Network should link the whole of the UK efficiently, not serve certain parts of the country well and ignore other areas where there are no toffee nosed pretentious people. If you want to travel from Great Yarmouth and get to South Norfolk on a Sunday you will wait hours for a train. This is unacceptable. Lazy good for nothing CEOs live the life of Riley by ripping off commuters.

I agree. Travelling from Norfolk especially across country or to the north of England is awkward and uncomfortable. Even the train enquiry assistants advise travelling via London and paying more instead, because they said that is what they do. Why should we ? We are entitled to a good service wherever we are. To get to Lynn by train from Norwich means a change and an interval at the uninspiring Ely station. Even going to Cambridge from Norwich often involves a similar change. I can hardly believe they intend to charge us more for this !

I don’t think it has ever been possible to take a direct train from Norwich to King’s Lynn. Even in the days of the Midland & Great Northern Railway the train from Norwich City Station [by a circuitous route via Melton Constable] would only get as close as South Lynn from where it was necessary to take a shuttle service into the town. It was always quicker to go to Ely and change for Kings Lynn. There is an hourly direct train from Norwich to Cambridge as well as the hourly train to Liverpool [via Peterborough, Nottingham, Sheffield, and Manchester] requiring a change at Ely for Cambridge. To get to York, Newcastle, or Scotland requires just one change at Peterborough. Most major English cities require only one change from Norwich which I consider to be quite good provision. Lots of new trains are now on order.

It appears to me that while the news about refunds etc is a step in the right direction, there is something fundamentally broken about the way railway networks operate throughout the UK. There are so many problems, from the industrial dispute on Southern rail to the Piccadilly line trains with square wheels caused by leaves on the line (again Autumn appears to have caught TFL by surprise – sums it all up somehow, and the Mayor of London wants to take over all the London commuter lines – it would be chaos!)

Today’s news about a change of responsibility between Railtrack and the operating companies over maintenance feels like a positive step – but I sense the relationships and contracts between Railtrack/the operating companies/unions/the government is just not working and requires the Minister of State for Transport to step in and impose some changes.

With the Autumn budget announcing significant funds for infrastructure development, unless the fundamentals of these relationships are sorted out, much of the money will be ineffective or wasted. The delays for commuters alone has a significant impact on the work, life, health and pocket of millions of people. The Minister needs to step in now.

Put the Transport system back into state control

The railways are already under state control. The Department for Transport specifies just about every detail of the train services provided and Network Rail is a public sector organisation controlled by the DfT and the Office of Rail & Road.

Put the transport system back into the Public sector

Being somewhat elderly and unable to stand on crowded long-distance trains for hours on end, I am forced to travel first class which works out quite expensive even with the rail-card.
Recently whilst going by train to Paris there were dozens of double-decker carriages that are used in the rush-hour. Surely there must be some routes in Britain where the road bridges are high enough to permit such a scheme to be implemented.

Phil says:
6 December 2016

Sadly not- the loading gauge everywhere in the UK is too restricted. However there has been a total failure to address rising use by providing extra coaches. Nowhere else in Europe runs inter-city services, as Cross Country Trains do, with just three standard class coaches. Nowhere else is building extra coaches always in the ‘too difficult’ category.

The railways will never be right until they are run nationally and in the public interest.

Helen says:
6 December 2016

Putting up rail fares is outrageous. Our trains are filthy, overheated in summer, freezing cold in winter. Like the other lady wheelchair user who posted, you’re not guarenteed to have someone waiting with a ramp, even though you have booked assistance. I have to say, however, that most station staff are curteous and helpful.

John Davies says:
6 December 2016

Think this government is taking the mic, they have spent taxpayers money to get the track back up spec and then give it back to private companies to milk it dry again.
All the rail companies should be not for profit, look at what’s happened with Virgin east coast up 5% plus.

pre Beeching we had a user friendly service. Doesn’t help much now I suppose.

The service offered by the rail companies falls well short. How many times have you travelled long distances without any refreshments due to staff shortages? What other industry would not be able to cover for illness or holiday? The latest excuse for a train cancellation was there was a shortage of carriages. Would you let these companies run your affairs? Not me!

It might be useful to draw attention to the way the network has been reduced at a time when dependency on rail travel is at its highest for maybe 100 years. In London over 20 platforms have been removed from London terminal stations and tracks reduced on the way in by at least 10. Yet we are running more trains. The system is in effect saturated with no spare capacity for three hours in the morning and evening peak periods and one fault on one line will result in huge delays and cancellations. The position is little different in other major cities with networks having suffered even more retraction. Moreover, much of the west country, midlands and north are running old fashioned unreliable trains that are unsuited to modern travel conditions.

Maurice Clements says:
6 December 2016

Rail privatisation never worked between 1923 and 1947. In 1923 all the small companies were grouped together to form the Big Four, namely the Great Western; Southern; LMS and LNER. None of the companies made any profits but the services provided were a lot better than today. Nationalisation in 1947 never worked either but compared to todays chaotic services and fares there were never any shortages of trains, and services were never cut in order to make repairs or improvements to the tracks and infrastructure. We have to thank Maggie Thatcher for today`s railway mess.

Michael Broadhurst says:
6 December 2016

you should get compensation if you cant get a seat as well.

I like the French system; you have to have a seat reservation to travel on the inter-city and high-speed services.

John YORKS says:
6 December 2016

we keep getting told that the monies raised from increased rail fares are reinvested in the services,in the north of england we are still travelling on bus chassis pacers and no sign of them being replaced any time soon,yet fares keep rising.