/ 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?

Neil Barton says:
7 December 2016

Endemic practices since the very beginning of railways have been the norm ! What one does to streamline,eradicate the way they perform,produce a comprehensive service and system is some thing for the gods to tangle with. Both,or possibly three sides of the argument could qualify for a NOBEL peace prize for infrastructure-if they were halfway serious in providing a rail system that worked for everybody and,I include the long suffering commuting passengers.
All my life there hasn’t been a year that I can recall which there hasn’t been a dispute of any description between those involved in running “The Railways” and either HM government and militant unions at each others throats. We,as a nation should hold our heads in shame,it’s totally and absolutely pathetic.

So called militant unions- such a cop out. In Germany , which has the strongest unions in Europe, the unions share in the decision making. The Sunderland car plant is how it could be here. It’s always been US and THEM in industrial relations in this country. Typical Thatcherite response.

Dave Allison says:
7 December 2016

The overcrowding and poor timekeeping on our services have nothing to do with trade unions. It’s mainly due to private companies being awarded franchises which they are incapable of fulfilling. They have neither the rolling stock or train staff to meet the demands of modern public transport.

Our local service (London – Midland) consistently runs vastly overcrowded trains. It was warned by the government for failing to provide a reliable service after many complaints but it was still given the franchise.
Even though the platform at our local station has been extended many trains still have insufficient coaches even though London – Midland can’t now use it as an excuse.
Their reply when I complained of carriages packed tighter than would be allowed for the transport of cattle was laughable. They blamed the guard for allowing the overcrowding even though families with small children and pushchairs were left on the platform, bearing in mind that at the time it was an hourly service and there were no toilet facilities on the station. They also said that there was no danger to standing passengers, many of whom had no handhold, because their trains had special (undefined) safety features to prevent injury. Remarkable considering the age of some of the rolling stock and very much the opposite of what happened on a German train which was involved in an accident where many of the worst injuries were inflicted on standing passengers who were thrown the length of the carriages.

Very much a case of shareholders before service.

I am most worried of all about women’s safety on trains when they dispense with guards i order to stick more money in the chief execs’ pockets. That dreadful Thatcher anti-woman has already made many stations unsafe at night by unmanning stations. I for one simply will not use unguarded trains in quiet areas or late at night. How dare they do this to me!

Why the complaint. Every year it is the same: HIGHER fares, lower service. Only one solution: deliver the service receive the reward. Would you entertain paying for your groceries first then collecting them. Well for online shoppers that is exactly the procedure.

John Bourne says:
7 December 2016

Forget HS2 , & use the money to sort out / update the existing system .

Wyn Stokes says:
7 December 2016

It’s an absolute disgrace in this day and age what is happening . Of course it will not affect the people that want to do this it affects the working class all the time. I absolutely agree with Margaret Little John about it not being safe if there are no conducted on the trains AND Don t they think that the driver has enough to do for passenger safety driving the train. I would like to see some of these brain boxes doing their job. We Don t need the hs2 as John Bourne stated they need to make our railways that we already have better.

mick says:
7 December 2016

Biggest con trick of modern times forced on the British people by Rail Privatisation by a Tory Government I am a retired Railway Engineer with 30 years service post and pre privatisation.
We have to understand that if 1/3 of the total cost spent on privatising the railways had been allocated to improving the system under public ownership, we would have had the best run railway system in the world.
Today it is a total disaster, as is the case with other privatised public services, when Britain’s Privatised Railways make profits for Foreign State Owned Train Companies.
Cheaper Rail Travel in these countries, rising Rail fares in this country.

Looking at all the comments on here 95% peed off and very unhappy. All I can say where possible vote with your feet and vote for a different government.

Things will not improve and will inevitably go from bad to worse with Chris Grayling the Tory transport minister proposing to pour yet more oil on to troubled waters, and at the same time make the network unsafe on top of being the most expensive in Europe to travel on.
We have reached a stage now of total impasse and desperation that can only be rectified by bringing back British Rail and public ownership. This is why for the first time in my life I will vote for a Corbyn Labour government who has pledged to do this as part of their manifesto. The reason is that I just cannot tolerate anymore ridiculous price rises to my season ticket whilst at the same time being continually kicked in the teeth by a shoddy and inefficient and continually late and overcrowded service.
The Tory government has had years to sort out the mess of a fragmented privatised shambles that the John Major government rushed through and left us all to face, but on Southern where I travel daily they have made matters even worse by riling the unions by trying to get rid of train guards, and close ticket offices.
I blame the Tory government, and now I will break the habit of a lifetime and vote for the opposition just so as to get some sort of sanity back in to our rail transport system, and most off all bring it back together as a single working entity once again.

I am a disabled woman .I have unseen disabilities ie Arthritis. FME,ME x others .
I always try if possible to book a disabled seat .I have adisability card for train x also bus.
However when I have paid visits to a friend in Manchester from Edinburgh it can be absolutely awful .
I am usually fine on the way down .But on the way back numerous times I couldn’t either get mt seat because of hostile persons already there ,luggage all over the floor or it was so crowded that I couldn’t get to the correct carriage x just had to get on to the first one I could manage. The other reason is that I am a very slow walker ,I get dizzy and a lot of pain and I have not been able to get to the carriage from the platform because of crowding or /and the amount of time allowed to get on to train .it NEVER TAKES INTO ACCOUNT elderly or disabled passengers .It is usually horrific .
It can also be the same when I get into London x I have at one point been put onto the wrong train and when I realised it .It was too late and I had to get off at the next stop and buy a full price ticket !! I always have money for this as I can miss trains as it is so difficult ocassionaly finding where the train in !! NOBODY takes this into account .I buy discounted tickets because I am on a strict budget But I am often worried I could be stuck 100s of miles from home. Who listens to us as disabled people .The law allows for it But not trains nor the need to buy new tickets .The discounted ones are conditional.

I am also disabled, with appropriate railcard. When I ask for “airline style seat on aisle” I’m not expressing a preference, I’m indicating physically essential requirements, but there seems no way to have this reflected in the seats issued. It has just taken 10 attempts, with two rail companies, to book a journey where I would be able to use the booked seats! I find the only way to be sure I have time to change platforms is to book separate tickets for each leg. 7 minutes to get from north end of platform 5 to platform 10 at York is tight for someone who can run, especially if they have to check the departure boards near the entrance first. For someone who can’t run, it’s impossible!

The railway companies are carrying too many passengers (employees). This overmanning of backroom staff needs a cull, so that fares can be reduced also the overpaid fat cats at the top.
No wasting money on HS2, just get this mess sorted out.

Fred says:
7 December 2016

Stop messing about and get it re-nationalised – NOW!!

I have only been on a train once in this country in more than 50 years ,when they were still steam powered.By all accounts I haven’t missed much,high prices,rubbish service,and they don’t even guarantee that you get a seat.If three or four people are travelling together it’s often cheaper in a taxi,at least you get a seat.

This increase is above the expected inflation based one. I suppose they had to do something when we beat them on paying for delays. We are paying for it now. Will we ever win? Can we complain to the regulator on the grounds of victimisation?

Brian Rosen says:
8 December 2016

We all want to see a better a rail system but there is little agreement about how to achieve that. A lot of people here blame the present shortcomings on the unions. A lot of others blame privatisation. Some think that money for HS2 will be wasted, while transport specialists argue that HS2 is the only way to increase much-needed capacity across Britain’s most populated region. Some want the system re-nationalised while others worry that that will mean increased taxation. Some think there isn’t money for improvements, others think the money’s there but isn’t used well, or enough. I know someone in the rail industry who says millions of pounds are wasted on multiple levels of unproductive consultancies.

Britain’s original rail network was a mosaic of private operations but by 1921 most of it had been concentrated by Parliamentary intervention into the Big Four companies. Nationalisation was the preferred option in 1948, since when John Major returned it all to a privatised mosaic. So perhaps one reason we have such a poor rail service today is because (to go by the comments here) there is no coherent consensus about what kind of government policy is needed to deliver the kind of rail system we all want to see. We might know what we want but we certainly can’t agree about how to get it. This leaves the way open to the disastrous ad-hoccery of rail policy by different governments.

One solution is to make sure the party you vote for has the transport policy you believe is most likely to give us the major improvements we crave. But if successive governments’ handling of analogous problems in Britain’s education system are anything to go by, all we’ll get is each of the two main parties forever undoing what the previous one has tried to do, in accordance with their respective ideals. Perhaps the only real way forward therefore is a vision and strategy for Britain’s transport (not just passenger trains) set out by some kind of fact-based independent commission with a strong consultative base, charged with this task, with the understanding that its recommendations be carried out regardless of party ideologies, but subject to regular review.

At last, a rational comment, albeit – and rightly – inconclusive. It is a pity that no one involved in the railway system has stepped forward to explain, or perhaps to justify, the present state of affairs.

Brian – you mentioned “each of the two main parties forever undoing what the previous one has tried to do”. The Blair-Brown series of Labour governments persistently promised to do that but never achieved even the slightest reversal of the privatised structure and even abolished the Strategic Rail Authority that was at least trying to make some coherent sense out of the muddle.

When you have a Tory government the rail companies will do what they want because they will be getting a cut of the profits through underhanded share dealing which they will deny with blatant LIES.

The train operating companies retain all the profits of operating their franchises [after allowing for any premium payments to the DfT], not just a cut of them. However, profits are not great in practice [three or four per cent generally] and far less profitable than some of the train companies’ other activities [like bus services].There has been no change in the fundamental economics of running the railways through a succession of Conservative, Labour, Coalition, and Conservative governments since privatisation except for the liquidation of Railtrack and its substitution by Network Rail as the infrastructure provider. Railtrack extracted excessive profits and neglected the track. Network Rail was created as a not-for-profit entity but ended up borrowing heavily and has generated a large burden of debt as a first call on its finances; it is now under government control and is constrained by Treasury restrictions on its capital expenditure which, because of NR’s mismanagement of projects and over-engineering of new works has caused a deferral of many important enhancements, the postponement of the introduction of better rolling stock, and other adverse consequences.

Years ago I used to travel most places by train now I cannot to even think about going anywhere at all by train The prices they charge are out of this world even with some sort of card to reduce the cost

Yannis says:
8 December 2016

Why the increase? The service is still bad (thameslink commuter from kentish town to denmark hill)

Feel sure that the annual fare rises are responsible for the cost of living index.Stablilize the train fares and perhaps the price of other commodities may steady.

I don’t recall my salary increasing over the last few years! Not only are the trains unreliable and disgustingly expensive in this country but the insidious practice of varying charges depending on the time and day is pathetic. I also question why young people under the age of 18 should pay adult fares when they are now forced to stay at school until they are 18 and not considered adult enough to vote until they are 18. AND the government wants us to get out of our cars and use public transport. Breathtakingly hypocritical.

Our railways need to be re-nationalised. These past twenty years have shown that privatisation does not work in the interests of the public, only to serve businesses and their shareholders. Without a responsible government, the whole industry has gone mad.
In addition, Southern Rail are confirming the above, and should instead accept Guards are a necessity. They do not seem to accept that the old Southern region is full of crossings and junctions, and that safety should be treated as paramount. Many stations will be crowded, people trying to get onto trains and others trying leave, as they close the doors. They cannot be simply operated by a driver who has no immediate view of the platform.