/ Travel & Leisure

Update: train pain – our railways are stagnating while prices soar

We all have our own individual train horror stories, but is satisfaction with our railways declining across the board? Our research suggests it is…

Update: 04/12/2018

We gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee in September on the impact of the May timetable changes on the passenger experience.

The Committee’s report, published today, found that no-one took responsibility for fixing the timetable mess and that blame for the appalling delays, cancellations and lack of information endured by passengers lies across the sector.

Research showed that less than a fifth of passengers affected by the recent timetable chaos said they were told about their right to claim for disruption to their journey.

Recognising the need for support when things go wrong, the committee backed our long-standing calls for automatic compensation to be urgently introduced across the board.


The rail regulator is also examining the issues that caused the chaos in May and is expected to publish its final report and recommendations later this month.

Following the government’s own analysis, the Secretary of State announced today that GTR will make no profit from its franchise in this financial year. The government has also capped the amount of profit that the operator is able to make for the remainder of its franchise, which is due to expire in September 2021.

Rail fares are going up in 2019: how much more will you pay?

Were you caught up in the timetable chaos? Did you claim compensation? Let us know how you feel the situation was handled.

Update: 16/10/2018

Feel like your station is the least reliable in Britain? If you commute from Manchester’s Oxford Road station, then you’d be right.

Today, we’ve revealed the UK’s most disrupted railway stations. To find them, we considered how many departures and arrivals were cancelled or at least one minute late (the industry’s measure of punctuality is five or 10 minutes late, depending on distance and region).

What’s the worst experience you’ve had on Britain’s trains? Share your stories with us here and use #TrainPain on Twitter.

Value for money?

Passenger satisfaction with the railways has dropped over the last decade while fares have ballooned, our new analysis showed today.

Satisfaction with punctuality and reliability has fallen by 6% over the past 10 years (from 79% in 2008 to 73% this year) our analysis of Transport Focus’s data showed.

For commuters, that satisfaction has dropped even more markedly, sliding by 10% (from 72% in 2008  to 62% today).

Satisfaction with value for money remains low, at 46%, having increased by just three percentage points over the decade for all passengers.

For commuters there’s been only a marginal rise in appallingly low satisfaction levels, from 30% in 2008 to 31% now.

During the same period rail fares have grown by over 40% – more than one and a half times higher than the overall rate of CPI inflation (26%) – for the same period.

Trust in tatters

Trust in the rail industry is at its lowest point in nearly six years, according to our Consumer Insight Tracker.

Only 23% of people have trust in train travel. And this is six percentage points less than last year.

This makes train travel one of the least-trusted consumer industries, beaten to last place only by car dealers.

Auto comp call

But the data’s perhaps not entirely surprising, given over 110,000 of you have now signed our petition demanding a better rail service.

So what’s to be done about our stagnating and increasingly expensive railways? Train companies need to get their act together and the government needs to make them.

We want trains to work for passengers, not just for train companies. That’s why today we’re calling on the government to introduce automatic compensation for all passengers who experience delays and cancellations.

Claiming compensation is a time-consuming and often complicated process, meaning too many people just don’t claim. Making it automatic would send a real message to our train operators and make sure passengers always get the compensation that they are owed.


I’m somewhat disappointed to see that Which? seems to think that automatic compensation is the most needed fix for our railway industry.

If more money needs to be paid out as compensation, so be it, but where do we suppose that money will come from?

Higher fares (a good capitalist option) or fatter subsidies (a good socialist option)…

UK rail needs a comparison site, an easy way for consumers to check who has the best prices. With anonymised mobile data now available for train usage, it’s possible to get an idea in advance of what are likely to be “quiet” trains i.e less busy. Prices should be reduced on those to bring in new users.

Mike, I’d also love to see an end to the point and purpose of “split ticketing”, i.e. I’d like to be charged on the basis of distance travelled, in the absence of clever marketing and sales perceptions about ticket pricing.

Given the somewhat critical tone of this “Conversation” (or “rant”), I’d like to give a bit “shout out” to all the railway professionals out there, i.e. those who work tirelessly to give the best possible service to their customers, or passengers, as we used to be called.

Agreed Derek. I have a very good experience of travelling by train but I have never commuted and don’t live in the south of England.

Agreed I have no complaints about the rail service (Virgin W Coast in our case) and worry that once again W? is becoming very London-centric.

I agree – not just London but “big city centric”. Whenever I have travelled into London our train service has been excellent.

A major problem is commuting. I doubt we can ever afford to provide sufficient track capacity, rolling stock and staff to deal with the two daily peak periods. Much capacity is left idle for most of the day. I don’t remember it being any different and commuters know the disadvantages. I am not excusing incompetence or poor performance but think we need a more fundamental approach. Essentially on two fronts. First, reduce thr need for long distance commuting, and commuting into already crowded towns and cities, by relocating employment nearer to where people choose to live. Second, reorganise the working day to spread out the peak periods and make more efficient use of the rail network.

I’m not in favour of automatic compensation as that just drains money out of an industry that need more investment. Many people have to commute to work by road and suffer considerable delays due to peak time congestion. Should they also be compensated? I don’t believe so.

We need a proper long term solution to travel delays, not achieved by paying people off.

Those that have bought tickets are entitled to an efficient service and deserve to be compensated if this is not provided. With so many cases, the only practical solution is automatic compensation. I strongly disagree with your suggestion that people should not be compensated for inadequate service and I’m committed to fighting for proper treatment of consumers.

If a company knows that it will not be able to deliver an efficient service they should not tender for the franchise. That would precipitate much needed action by the government.

I think the major problem is unrestrained demand. Reservations on British trains are not compulsory [unlike on many continental services] and stations do not stop selling season tickets when notional capacity has been reached. The practical fact is that for many of the commuter franchises it is impossible to avoid overcrowding and delays for a range of reasons so saying companies should not tender for franchises if they cannot operate them satisfactorily would lead to a collapse of the system. Most of these problems can only be measured retrospectively but cannot be taken into account in future franchise awards. Chris Grayling’s department has a lot to answer for in constructing franchises with unrealistic obligations and expectations but they are driven by an unstoppable force.

When people have moved to an area with a good train service and organised their lives around it, who is to say that another batch of houses should not be built there and a further thousand commuters added to the mix? The only sensible solution is to reorganise the distribution of workplaces to reduce the need for extensive travelling. For journeys into a metropolis there is no real alternative to public transport but in most cases the railways have reached saturation point – it is prohibitive to enlarge the tracks and stations to increase capacity; trains are reaching their maximum length without giving rise to other problems with junctions and signalling; frequency on many routes is beyond the optimum before disruption becomes inevitable in the event of a minor incident; and the dispersal of passengers from termini becomes a critical issue.

As with provision of ATMs there is need for better planning to look at the impact of new housing and population growth on how rail services and roads (congestion and parking) can cope.

I wonder if incentives could be offered for those that travel to work by foot or bike.

This morning on BBC Breakfast, Chris Grayling was interviewed. Unusually, I listened to his reasoning very carefully, and when examined it’s utterly insubstantial.

When Mr Grayling was asked about the prospects for nationalising those services that were the constant cause of complaint he said nationalisation doesn’t work (which it does) and specifically that without nationalisation we’d not have the investment in new rolling stock because (his words) “..the railways would find themselves in competition with education and the health service for money, and they’d always be pushed to the back of the queue”.

This illustrates why we need a powerful consumer champion, since a powerful one would already have challenged that statement on several grounds: it’s ludicrous to place the NHS, Education and the Railways into the same category. The first two are socially-funded, the last is a commercial proposition.

Secondly the railways (if nationalised) could be made subject to the same conditions as under private ownership. Private companies go to the markets for funding to invest in new stock. If private companies can do it, why not state-owned companies?

Thirdly, one of the reasons train performance in the SE has been so dismal is that the train companies made more money by allowing them to deteriorate under the agreements with the government.

Fourthly, if some private companies can run a successful franchise (e.g Virgin West coast) why can’t the government? If it was sufficiently successful it could help fund the NHS.

Thanks Ian.

Last time I looked, the vast bulk of the UK road network was a publicly funded part of our national infrastructure.

You will find a lot of opposition, Ian, but I think you might be right.

Network Rail is already a nationalised organisation and is responsible for all the track, signalling and major stations. Not much improvement likely there then.

The train operating companies are private companies, mostly owned by state-owned continental and oriental railways. They are constrained in what they can achieve by the limitations of the Network Rail infrastructure and by the very tightly specified franchises [plus a considerable degree of micro-management by the DfT].

Most of our woes point back to the DfT and the shambolic planning of development over decades with a lack of integrated provision of homes, workplaces and other facilities.

Commuting more than thirty miles was once considered suitable only for the leisured classes who were not required to be at their place of business before eleven o’clock. As train speeds and frequencies have increased the London commuter zone now includes Norwich, Peterborough, Northampton, Oxford, Swindon and Southampton [and on some lines beyond]. Being able to work on the train has been a further spur to long distance commuting. A concomitant effect is that towns in the thirty to sixty mile radius have become dormitories over the last few decades and have lost rather than gained employment opportunities. There is no quick fix to this unless there is a compulsory dispersal of employment; relative to the problems of relocating industrial operations with their smokestacks and effluents it should be easy to move office work to better places. It was done quite successfully in the 1960’s and 1970’s to towns on the coast and in the mid-range but many of them have crept back. The next big push was to transfer the work to the Indian sub-continent but this has failed to give satisfaction and much of that work is returning to other parts of the UK which welcome the opportunities but it does not do much to relieve the basic metropolitan overload.

I would be interested to know how many people could work at home for one or two days a week, now that sitting in front of a computer is now a feature of so many jobs. Not only could it reduce problems with rail and road but anyone who has had to take time off work just to wait in for someone to repair the washing machine or for a delivery will be able to see other benefits. Unlike other proposals, allowing staff to work at home on a regular basis could be done now and produce immediate benefit for those travelling by train.

wavechange, I think the evolution of white-collar workers doing more homeworking is already happening. Also, the roll-out of wifi on trains allows such folk to work more during their travelling time.

But, that said, and as I think I’ve pointed out before, many “proper jobs” can’t be done from home over the internet. For example, if you’re a barista in costa packet coffee, you’ve got be there in person to ask all those complicated superfluous questions and dispense those overpriced cakes.

🙂 🙂 It’s not the done thing to take a Thermos of coffee these days, then?

I realise that I have not a clue about how many workers could potentially work at home one or two days a week or even how many can work flexi-time.

Long ago, when I used to commute by car or motorbike, it was obvious that, during the school holidays, marginal reductions in demand greatly reduced congestion.

Hence, I expect similar marginal reductions in rail commuting would also help.

I used to ‘commute’ all of 3.3 miles on a small motorcycle in the 70s. I could park in a city centre free of charge, whereas those with cars paid for permits and there were many more permits than parking spaces.

There is huge investment in rail infrastructure in the SE directly aimed at commuters, at the expense of most other parts of the UK; hence the dismal failure of a number of electrification projects.

Rush hour demand is the problem and rather than try to expand even further to deal with it, we should attack the cause and reduce the demand by spreading commuting over a longer period – more organised flexible working hours. We simply cannot go on as we are with ever increasing demand.

Commuters join this daily rush in the full knowledge of how overstretched, overcrowded and susceptible to delays some services are. Worth pointing out they pay substantially less for their travel than other passengers.

We need to start some fundamental chsnges, not just perpetuate the current overloaded practice.

One problem with nationslisation is the susceptibility of finance and fares to political pressure and expediency, particularly in the run-up to an election.

Rush hour demand is the problem and rather than try to expand even further to deal with it, we should attack the cause and reduce the demand by spreading commuting over a longer period…We need to start some fundamental changes, not just perpetuate the current overloaded practice

But that’s something over which we nor W? or the government have any control. Realistically, we have to discuss things which could be done, rather than theorise about possible scenarios.

One problem with nationslisation is the susceptibility of finance and fares to political pressure and expediency, particularly in the run-up to an election.

Indeed, and it’s the main problem But it’s possible for the state to set up limited companies, and retain the majority shareholding. Thus it proceeds as a private company but is still a state-owned company. Best of both worlds in fact.

There’s a reason why the government doesn’t want to nationalise the railways. Well, two really. The first is they don’t want to be blamed when it goes wrong but the second is their blinkered belief in the moral supremacy of the market place. Why, since it’s so often been found wanting, I don’t know. But their similarly blinkered belief in the virtues of privatisation continue to shackle originality in thinking terms.

Since the railways are all but nationalised already, the government has failed on that as well then.

Well, they certainly don’t appear to be able to run successful businesses, I agree But then, neither do a lot of private individuals. I’m not saying nationalising will be a cure-all; it won’t that’s for sure, but a cursory examination of train companies in Europe suggests none is free from subsidy or government easing, at the very least. Perhaps national train services simply can’t be commercially run?

Rush hour demand……..But that’s something over which we nor W? or the government have any control.”. Actually, Which? has by staggering its own working hours and moving jobs away from central London. But more importantly, the Government could deal with this by imposing working times on companies to spread the load, and by providing incentives to organisations to move out of congested areas – including its own offices.

We maybe ( I stress “maybe”) could introduce different starting times for schools, where the parent taxi service and teachers increase congestion.

We will never conquer commuter overcrowding, discomfort or delays on rail or roads by just allowing the present situation to persist and grow, We will never be able to provide the infrastructure and service to deal with the twice a day peak effectively, and certainly not with current financial demands. It is crazy to choose to live in Norwich, Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge and commute to London. A huge waste of time and resource.

Commuter overcrowding has always been the case as far as I can see, when the railways were nationalised and before. Just take a look at old films of hordes arriving at London stations in the morning.

Schools have had the latitude to vary their start times for some years, now. But the problem is that everything tends to revolve around those whose hours cannot be varied, such as shop workers.

You seem to be suggesting the government could achieve a change “by imposing working times on companies to spread the load”. How, exactly, could it do that? Tory governments are generally against legislation that they perceive as stifling businesses and I cannot see how it would work. Flexitime has already been around for many years in most major companies but the simple fact is that the daylight hours tend to govern when people get up and go to work.

I agree Which? could change things but then I don’t see why a lot of their folk couldn’t work from home anyway.

Always thought that there was a place for monorails in London.

Japan solved their road congestion with the Honda 50cc Super Cub (I think it was) of which eventually over 80 million were produced. Big wheels to deal with poor roads and an automatic clutch so it could be ridden one-handed while carrying takeway food in the other (so it is said).

With shop opening times so extended shifts start early and finish late, and very many people work outside normal daylight hours, so altering, say, office working hours should not be difficult. I am simply suggesting that there are ways to alter the commuting pattern if we choose, or are persuaded, to use them. Far better than pouring more and more resources into the twice a day black hole. Modify the black hole instead.

The government could start with its own extensive organisations.


Mere mention of monorails always first reminds me of certain Thunderbirds episodes. But aside of such futuristic notions, there is also this one from Ireland:

www lartiguemonorail com

malcom r mentioned Honda 50’s and then said:

“The government could start with its own extensive organisations.”

Perhaps the PM and her crew should be on bicycles too – which they’d somehow or other invest in…

Bit plebeian don’t you think? The police would have to run alongside her á la Mr Kim’s entourage carrying the big black box and her red boxes. They’d have watering eyes and a choking fit in Westminster. I am surprised there isn’t a tunnel between No. 10 and the Houses of Parliament via the Treasury and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Perhaps there is but there’s a big hairy beast by the name of Boris lurking down there in some sepulchral vault.

I had a Honda 50 in the early 70s – or C50 as they were branded in the UK. Large wheels, 125mpg, a top speed not much more than 40mpg. Ideal for commuting because no-one would want to travel far on one on a regular basis.

Walt Disney World in Florida has a functioning monorail system that works every day of the year and transports millions of visitors around the resort. It’s an old system, with coaches and the power unit all running on rubber-tyred wheels atop an 18″ wide concrete rail. It’s fast (40-50mph) and efficient, owing to the loading stations where the visitors fill up ‘pens’ prior to boarding, and then simply pour onto the train coaches. Because of the design existing passengers leave on the opposite side of the coach, so there’s no scrum between departing and boarding passengers.

The real beauty of the system for cities is that the rails run around 20 – 30 feet above ground and their support pillar footprint is about 1sq m. Power is electric.

Not be outdone, Alton Towers has one too.

Er…yes, it does. Of sorts, anyway, but I wouldn’t want to extend that model to anything substantial in distance terms.

Patrick Taylor says:
16 August 2018

We again seem to be rehashing the same old statements and solutions. Which? apparently also has not noticed the numerous comments from previous Conversations about nationalising a strategic asset to improve planning.

The Conversation is based on reporting from an official Rail survey [50,000 rail travellers] but also includes something from a much smaller [2000] Which? online survey.

The Which? survey apparently asks people if they trust train travel which seems a curious question but anyway leads to this quote:
” In fact, this makes train travel one of the least-trusted consumer industries, beaten to last place only by car dealers.”
which.co.uk/news/2018/08/have-trains-actually-improved-in-the-last-decade/ – Which?

Trying hard I still find it impossible to consider train travel as a consumer industry and comparable to the likes of car dealers. Is it just me who thinks this both a bizarre and untenable comparison?

No, Patrick, it’s not just you. That comment stopped me in my tracks, as it were, as it is not the analytical product of proper research and is actually meaningless. ‘Car dealers’ covers everything from a spiv on a bit of waste ground to an RR showroom in Mayfair.

I can’t think of many more ways in which the strategic planning of our railways could be nationalised. The Department for Transport and the Office of Rail & Road between them control just about every element of the system and have one of the most elaborate strategic planning frameworks and periodic economic performance structures you could imagine, yet we still end up with a shambles on wheels. Network Rail itself is a completely state-owned entity whose infrastructure enhancement costs have spiralled out of control while its performance has gone in the reverse direction at a similar rate. Spending a fortune taking the train operating companies under government control will not achieve anything; it has been demonstrated on the East Coast route that the government cannot perform better than the private companies. It really is a mess. The only impressive part is safety: the UK railways are the safest in Europe, if not the in the world, certainly on a passenger kilometre basis.

That’s possibly because the current rail system attempts to be all things to all people. It’s evolved rather than been planned (one reason, surely, why maintenance costs are astronomical) and it does village to village and even street to street within villages, as well as running between Scotland and the SE of England.

The dated design reveals this clearly; if you have luggage, for instance, you’re still fighting up steps and through comparatively narrow doors to get it on at all, whereas in most European trains the boarding doors are far wider and the floors of the coaches are level with the platform. Most UK trains still have their doors at either end, above the bogeys, whereas the continental rolling stock has doors in the centre of the coaches and is thus lower.

Add to this the fact that many of our stations were built a very long time ago and optimised for short trains, the curvature of many of the platforms renders them awkward and potentially dangerous for travellers.

There’s no simple solution to all this that doesn’t involve a huge amount of money, massive inconvenience and tremendous dislocation. I know Network rail is panned repeatedly for doing ‘regular maintenance work’ during times when people want to use the trains but the problem is that people always want to use the trains and the network lacks the capacity to bypass the engineering works partly, of course, because of the criminal short-sightedness of earlier Tory governments and the even more criminal lack of both planning and investment by all governments during the period of nationalised ownership.

Patrick, I couldn’t agree more. Which? uses silly or inappropriate words to grab headlines it seems, rather than making an objective assessment of an important topic.

Passenger trust – in what, exactly?

Figures for timeliness are published by Network Rail and much more detailed information by the Office of Rail Regulation. Overall, over the last 12 months, arrival times for all expected station stops were:
On time 61.9%
Within 3 mins 82.4%
Within 5 mins 90.2%
Within 10 mins 96.5%
Within 15 mins 98.3%

I wonder how road journeys compare – particularly at rush hour? For commuters I’d suggest road congestion is a major issue. 10% travel to work by train but 67% travel by car.

You also suggest that “Which? apparently also has not noticed the numerous comments from previous Conversations………. This seems to be rife. There is a news item emailed to me yesterday about plastics waste with absolutely no mention of suggestions and constructive comments made in the extensive Convos we have all had here. Is Which? totally disconnected from its contributors?

Comparing delays in rail and road journeys is not a useful comparison. If you travel by train there is a timetable that shows the departure time and expected arrival time and hopefully you will have paid for the service that you expect to receive. There is no timetable for road travel. In the summer months the time taken for me to get into town depends on the number of times I have to stop for cows crossing the road. Recently, my report of a water leak on the outskirts of town caused considerable holdups, or so I have been told.

I don’t know why Which? has Convo and often does not make use of comments, even when launching a new Convo on a related topic.

It’s worth keeping our input in perspective. Many of our suggestions merely reiterate ones that have been well publicised. I have yet to receive the update on plastics.

The reason many suggestions are “merely reiterated” is because no reference has been made by Which? to them and they have been lost in past pages of comments. It informs new readers, as well as trying to keep constructive and informative comments in front of……well, i’d hope Which? but I don’t think that is the case.

Also, when commenters bring up points again that have been made in the past and received responses, those same responses are likely to be repeated unless something has changed.

Sorry Malcolm. What I said was not clear. Many of the comments reiterate information that has been published elsewhere. Most of the information we collectively post on W?C is from what we have read online. The main role of Which? as I see it is to push for action where it is obviously needed, and hopefully we can encourage this.

Hi Wavechange, I’m sorry I haven’t been as quick as you need me to be this week while I’m a bit short staffed. I’m working as fast as I can, and if anything is urgent and I’ve missed it – or if you see I haven’t responded at all to something – I’d be so grateful for a little nudge. Thank you.

You’re right that we need to make it more clear here how we work with comments. We read every comment that comes into Which? Conversation generally. We ask questions in our posts that drive people to help share stories and insight that help inform our work. We create new Convos based on comments. Sometimes we send emails to supporters asking them to share stories in the comments here, and we also read these comments and stories people so kindly share, and we use this feedback in the campaigns work that we do. Some, we contact to work on case studies with.

My thoughts as a newcomer to the team are that we need to explain this in the ‘About’ section. So it’s on our list to update. As a newcomer working here with you these last two weeks, I have read all of your feedback that we need to get a lot better at doing more than just reading comments and passing on information across Which? internally. So we’re going to get better at helping all members of the community find the information and support they are looking for. I can’t thank you, Ian, John, Duncan, Malcolm (and so many others I’m not saying right now) for endlessly championing this on behalf of the community. We’re looking now at ways to get more support here in Convo for this very reason.

One other level to this – for those who are here a lot and talk to us regularly, we again read every comment and we note down ideas and feed back to relevant areas of the business. We note potential improvements and ideas for the future of Convo too. And in this area we’re going to get a lot better at leaving public replies to let you know when we are looking into finding answers to the many questions you raised, and we’re going to get a lot better at following up.

Hello there, @malcolm-r, we picked up on this after discovering this forum discussion yesterday – https://www.railforums.co.uk/threads/which-magazine-rail-second-least-trusted-consumer-industry.168343/

I have provided this extremely useful (and all of these comments here) insight to our campaign team working on these rail issues.

Hi Elena – It would be great if new Convo introductions did take on board comments and suggestions that have gone before, because there is often no evidence that this has been done. Sometimes posts and links to individual posts are quoted but what’s needed more, in my view, is for Which? to say how its view has changed in response to comments and additional information from other sources.

I’m not too happy using the @elena request for feedback because this may ignore useful input from the many users of Convo who post helpful suggestions without ever demanding attention.

@elena, thanks – an interesting spread of comments.

I have to say my opinion of trust in Which? has declined since joining Convos – the recent advertising for Amazon’s Prime sale day, lack of action on retailers for example, and their continual misleading assertion about car manufacturers’ being to blame for “claimed” mpgs when it has been repeatedly pointed out to Which? that this is down to the EU.

But you know all this 🙂 I’m still here to add my two penn’orth and hope the “association” bit of “consumers……” begins to have more meaning. 🙂

Comparing delays in rail and road journeys is not a useful comparison. If you travel by train there is a timetable that shows the departure time and expected arrival time and hopefully you will have paid for the service that you expect to receive. There is no timetable for road travel.

10% of people commute to work by rail – average journey time 59 minutes. 7% of commuters travel to work by bus – average journey time 40 minutes – that is also timetabled and paid for. So I’d suggest it is both a fair and useful comparison. Both will be held up with delays and suffer overcrowding. The whole problem needs to be addressed, not just one part of it.

I know we gave you a nod in one recently, but you’re right that we need to mention it every time. 🙂

I’m sorry to hear that Malcolm, but I’m glad you stick around. It’s good to be honest!

🙂 🙂 Constructive frustration.

“Comparing delays in rail and road journeys is not a useful comparison”. I was not directly comparing delays in terms of times, but pointing out that far more people travel to work by car, as commuters, than by rail so the problems of delays are far from peculiar to rail travel.

Solutions to peak time travel need to consider all commuters, not just one sector. So, as a couple of examples, spreading start and finish working hours would help the road rush hours as well as rail; locating business and organisations away from congested areas would help all commuters with better journeys.

When these issues have been extensively studied in this and other countries, I’m not sure what we can hope to contribute other than perhaps to persuade others of the virtues of moving near to where they work, walking and cycling rather than public transport and cars, the benefits of avoiding peak time travel and how working at home can help reduce demand on rail and road travel.

Maybe the best we can do as individual is to sign the Which? petition to support the need for action. I would be happy for Which? to push for the government to take action on the underlying problems.

The Which? petition says:
Our railways are plagued by delays, cancellations, constant overcrowding and hideous train conditions. Passengers are paying more than ever but still arriving at their destination late and frustrated. To make matters worse, recent timetable changes have caused even more disruption. It’s unacceptable. We deserve trains that run for passengers, not just the rail industry. Sign our petition to demand better rail services.

It does nothing more than say “something must be done” whereas I am more concerned to find out what that “something” that must be done could realistically be. Which? do not address this. Some of us have tried to.

It is not a problem that will have an instant solution as, essentially, what underlies it is a lack of capacity for a growing number of passengers, a capacity that I do not see as ever being increased economically, or even practically. We are not just having to deal with a current peak time overload but one that seems to be going to grow. Therefore other solutions need to be debated.

At some point the situation may stabilise when enough commuters decide the morning and evening hassle is not for them and change their job or location. Or companies realise the damage – lateness, absence, disgruntlement among their staff – and think of making their own changes.

I could not sign that petition because it is an unfair generalisation and exaggeration. I have many satisfactory rail journeys. Which? criticises companies for their misrepresentation so they should take special care over their own use of language.

I agree with Malcolm and John.

Hi Malcolm and John,

As Gen shared, there’s one thing that would make a big difference – the introduction of automatic compensation for delays and cancellations. That would actually be a very neat solution as it would start to influence train companies to improve their services, as it would affect their bottom line if they don’t. Moreover, at the moment train operators are paid compensation by Network Rail if delays and cancellations aren’t their fault, and this should be passed onto passengers – but it isn’t because it’s so difficult to claim. What motivation does that give train operators to sort out the problem?

We also want the long awaited Rail Ombudsman to be put in place as soon as possible, so that passenger voices don’t continue to go unheard.

Our policy team is also investigating additional solutions to the rail problem in depth. I hope that sheds some light.

@patrick, this assumes the TOCs can solve the problem, which for commuters I do not think they ever will. As far as I know it has always been a difficult service to operate for reasons given. There have, as has been said, huge investment in some areas in longer platform to accommodate longer trains, Crossrail, and electrification for example but as I see it congested tracks and space to fit them in, particularly in London, limits what can be done.

Compensation is not the answer. It will drain resources out of the system, timetables maybe revised to reflect longer journey times, services may be cut maybe, and the money will come from the taxpayer or the commuter in higher fares, There is a fundamental problem largely caused by commuting that needs tackling.

Where money is paid it should go into improving the system. Maybe the Ts&Cs should remind commuters of the difficulties of operating a timely service in some areas and not guarantee a service that they know may not be deliverable reliably.

If we provide fewer trains to reduce congestion and improve reliability then will that prompt commuters to alter their travelling habits perhaps, if we are trying to bite off more than we can chew.

Malcolm compensation, if and when claimed by commuters is peanuts to private rail companies. Larger fines are much more effective if they are put back into the system which could reduce the annual price hikes for commuters and induce a more efficient system.

Automatic compensation would probably be a different story, Beryl – giant jumbo peanuts. If the TOCs are fined that will increase their operating costs and would be passed on in some way or another to maintain their margin, or they would have less to invest in the service. If Network Rail is fined then that just takes away some of its capital used for improvements, and would go back to the government who own and fund it anyway. Do we fine unions when they disrupt services as well?

I don’t see it as a lack of efficiency in general in the system, but a system that is too small for the purpose, and one where it is very difficult and very expensive to expand adequately in physically congested areas.

One suggestion might be a little harsh. Fit the rush hour services that are provided to suit the capacity available, and then they can be run sensibly and efficiently and we can penalise in instances where incompetence has failed to provided the contracted service. I presume trying to squeeze to much out of the system is the problem. Commuters at peak times might then have to change their habits in line with the service available. That might mean travelling earlier or later and reaching agreements to allow this with their employers.

However, this is all conjecture. It would be helpful if Which? could get someone knowledgeable from within the industry to tell us their views, whether we (I) ‘ve got this all wrong, and how a commuter’s life can be, and will be, improved.

Thanks, Patrick. I understand Which?’s position but I still don’t like the wording of the petition. I agree entirely with Malcolm. Demand for peak time train travel has exceeded all the capacity available and that cannot be remedied except at prohibitive cost and massive demolition and disruption. Season ticket holders are already compensated generously for the known problems of travelling every day on overcrowded trains: it is in the form of a very cheap fare per mile compared with an occasional passenger travelling in the peak. Also the difficulties of the service are usually well-known to the intending passenger as well as the absence of practical alternatives.

I appreciate that this is not a sympathetic response but the constant condemnation of the operation of the railways is unjustified. I have written [probably at length] on auto-compensation in the relevant Conversations. I think passengers should be able to opt out or select their own threshold before any compensation is actually paid. Today I read that there was considerable disruption because a tractor and trailer had accidentally run onto the line, damaged the track and ripped out a tree that fell on the track. Network Rail will have to pay the train companies affected for the disruption even though the incident was beyond their control and could not have been prevented [except possibly by constructing massive lineside barriers]. I would not expect to receive compensation if my journey was affected so long as reasonable efforts were made to provide alternative travel arrangement . I don’t criticise those who assiduously request compensation but I do not think it should be paid when unsolicited.

We had an extremely capacious system until it was rationalised in the 1960’s [or hacked to bits, to use the official terminology] and the land sold off for development. All those goods yards adjacent to terminal stations could have been developed today as extra terminal capacity and empty stock sidings, and the additional tracks formerly used for freight trains would have enabled express trains to overtake the stoppers. Even as recently as the early 1990’s when the railway system in Great Britain was being privatised [Northern Ireland’s is still run by the NI government] the policy was for a ‘no growth’ railway and the franchises were devised accordingly.

The only way out of this is to reduce the amount of employment within the metropolitan areas. Staggering the working hours might help temporarily but that is just a reshuffle of the problem. Only the wealthy [or those in the limited amount of social housing in the inner boroughs] can afford to live within walking or cycling distance of work in central London. For the rest it means moving ever further out and fares becoming an excessive proportion of people’s income with the lost time a serious handicap on family or social life.

I don’t think anyone doubts that major changes are needed to tackle the current rail problems in the southern region, but unless passengers are offered compensation for services that are paid for but not delivered, this could be a slippery slope. We have been there with the British car industry.

I’m convinced that the best ‘quick fix’ would be to cut down on commuting by encouraging people to work at home for one or two days a week.

I think you are absolutely right that we need to look at compensation, John. Several years ago I was unable to return from my Christmas holiday in the highlands of Scotland because all trains were cancelled because of the weather. The following day I made it back hours late, the route and changes different from what had been planned. I suppose I would have been eligible for compensation but I was just glad to get back. I regret not writing a letter of congratulation.

Most of my train travel is now off-peak and I usually aim to arrive with plenty of time to spare, much like when I drive. It’s a bit different from those who commute by train.

As I intimated above, regular commuters pay a relatively low price per journey for a season ticket and get a service to suit.

Typically half price on one commute I looked at. Commuters probably cause the biggest costs because of the extra infrastructure, stock and staff required to try to service their needs.

Many people cannot work at home, but could start an hour later or earlier and help spread the load.

Which? might explain whether they have such “elongated” working hours, whether they encourage staff to work from home, and why they need a large head office in the most polluted part of our most congested and expensive city. They are opening a new office in Cardiff, i believe. I hope this is outside the city and not in the centre.

You’ll be happy to know we offer flexible working to our staff to help meet their travel needs, both planned and unexpected. And where staff do not have to access to systems only available to them on-site (such as telephony infrastructure) staff are permitted to work from home as needed. We’re quite “2018” in this regard, as are a great many other businesses in London, Bristol and Cardiff.

Our Cardiff offices are centrally located, and within a short walk of the train station where many staff will come in from other villages and towns.

Large Central London firms could divide the working week by four instead of five and have No Mondays, No Tuesdays, etc, for batches of staff selected to maintain coverage. That would reduce travel demand by 20 per cent.

Spread the holiday allowance out as well with only two consecutive weeks allowed in July and August and the remainder divided between a minimum of six of the other ten months. This would be part of the price for having a job in London and would soon drive employers to relocate to areas where staff would have more flexibility but would not need such high pay because the costs of living are lower.

@elena, thanks. I do wonder why Which? need to occupy expensive polluted central London offices.
As I am in another slightly cynical mood today, I wonder why you add to the congestion in Cardiff by having central offices rather than out of town.

Suggestions are accumulating that could help relieve congestion now rather than building more and more infrastructure, not necessary for most of the day. I wonder if Which? will launch a Convo on positive ways to address the rail (and road) commuter problem. I get tired of the continued negative approach that helps solve nothing – other than demand someone else solves it.

We get the message! Thanks Malcolm!

I hear where you’re coming from on this, Malcolm!

Should people be rewarded in some way if they are able to live close to work, so that they can travel there on foot or bicycle?

Speaking from recent experience, there are obvious inherent rewards such as:

Time not spent travelling can be put to better uses;

No need to spend a small fortune running a car or motorbike paying train or bus fares;

Walking is safer and less stressful than driving.

Some of us have also been lucky enough to have been able to rule out working in places such as London, as we’ve neither wanted, nor needed, to work there.

They are rewarded with more time at home, less hassle, less cost. Seems very rewarding to me 🙂

Yes there are benefits but I think an incentive is needed to encourage people to walk or cycle to work and to live within a distance that makes these sensible options.

Even when I was at school it seemed a waste of time and money to commute and it was then when I decided I did not want to work in London.

Malcolm – You are right, but did you walk or cycle to work?

When I started work in North London I walked to work for several years. However, driven out by housing costs into the countryside and, having a company car with petrol at 33p a gallon I drove to work when I was not out and about visiting. Having settled in a house with no appropriate local employment I then commuted to future jobs. We liked the part of the country we lived in and with schools and family did not intend moving so I put up with a daily commute by road.

My job required inventiveness and I found the drive conducive to solving new problems – except Monday evenings when I listened to I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue, chaired by Humph.

Fair enough. “more time at home, less hassle, less cost” would not have appealed to you, so is living near work more likely to appeal to anyone in 2018?

What incentive would be needed to actually encourage more people to walk or cycle to work? I would have cycled the short distance to work but for the fact that once out of a quiet housing estate I would have to negotiate a busy dual carriageway and a couple of other busy bus routes before getting near my destination encouraged me to use the car. We spend money on HS2 and ignore protecting cyclists from motorists and pedestrians from cyclists.

“more time at home, less hassle, less cost” would not have appealed to you, ” . Wrong :-(. Of course it appealed to me but like some people the location of where I could work and where I preferred to live was another consideration, and a convenient solution was not available. This is exactly the point made earlier – moving places of work way from congested areas nearer to areas where people want to live will help a lot of people with much shorter commute. Not everyone, because if you are in a specialist area with few employers you may need to adopt a less satisfactory compromise.

In my neck if the woods there is much evidence of money being invested in both infrastructure and rolling stock with both electrification of lines and new faster and cleaner electric trains now up and running. Millions have been spent on new stations in the vicinity to accommodate longer trains capable of transporting more people into the Capital for their daily commute.

This huge investment however, doesn’t come easily and someone has to foot the bill, either through general taxation or through ticket sales according to the frequency of usage. People working and commuting to London and the SE can, and usually do, expect to take home more by way of travel expense accounts, often refundable, or by a much higher and lucrative remuneration in terms of income from earnings.

I don’t believe nationalisation is the answer to resolve the longstanding and disruptive poor service, but I do consider this governments reluctance, or its inability to intervene, to sort the much deeper political connotations that exist within the rail systems employees, needs to be addressed whereby a list of official regulations could be applied and abided by, to include affordable and justifiable fare increases, and interested private companies taken to account and heavily penalised financially for cancelled and late trains, the money put back to improve the system and not claimed by commuters, which has so far proven to be both inadequate and ineffective.

The Japanese efficient rail system has been privatised since 1987 and is operated by a group of 7 companies who own land and real estate in close proximity to mainline stations, which includes large retail units and food malls where commuters can shop with ease en route to their homes or places of work. Profits from these units are then put back into the rail system for maintenance and general improvement.

The UK under Brexit needs an efficient, reliable and safe transport system if it is to survive economically; one is wholly dependent upon the other. Petty politically motivated Union disputes about the number of guards on station platforms or on trains, have the ability to affect the everyday lives of its people and bring the country to its knees.

We need a strong government capable of recognising the importance of the need for its people to get to their place of work on time and in reasonable conditions and one that is capable of taking the necessary steps to regulate and penalise anyone who decides to the contrary.

I heartily agree with you Beryl.

It is madness that as the number of passengers on trains increases to bursting point the government wants to reduce the number of staff providing safety, security, help and advice but I think the RMT are attacking it from the wrong angle [while disguising their stance as passenger concern]. Having a guard stuck in the rear cab and doing nothing is not the answer.

Phil says:
19 August 2018

Well the driver in the front cab doesn’t do much and could be dispensed with too. The times these men and women earn their money is when things go wrong; as they inevitably do from time to time.

Patrick Taylor says:
16 August 2018

Some data to play with:

As pointed out, but not discussed, the way for TOC to get trains running more smoothly is to cut services and avoid paying out compensation to travellers. Anyway the Economist, which used to be reliably intelligent adds this titbit:
” As more jobs move to city centres, the ability to commute long distances without a the risk of cancellations or delays matters ever more to voters, says Jonathan Roberts, a transport consultant.”
This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Votes on the line

A tax on bums on seats in London starting with firms with over 100 staff might make companies realise that regional offices may be sensible. It then would lead to less commuting ….. and less everything required to meet an outrageous morning peak travel.

Which? has lead the way by increasing HQ office space for employees in Central London in a valiant effort to show the folly of paying higher wages to incentivise workers to travel in, and endure the proven life-degrading pollution. A practical if expensive way of highlighting the stupidity of so many commercial companies

Patrick Taylor says:
16 August 2018


Note the reader comments.

This in passing highlights many aspects of railway running perhaps not appreciated by the vast majority of casual posters. What is not covered in the article, which is looking at lessons that could be learned for the Netherlands railways from Japanese operations, are two items of importance that need to be borne in mind when considering the UK.

1. The Japanese rail system had largely to be rebuilt after WW2 and obviously took into account the full development of systems up to 1950.
2. The attitude of the City to making money and the short-termism in how they do it is very un-japanese where the long long view is ingrained. I have no doubt that the City has done exceedingly well from the various restructurings that have taken place.
3. Highly relevant as AFAIR there is a lack of genuine railway experience in the UK operating companies at the highest levels.
“Another topic mentioned and related to this theme is that of knowledge management and degree of professionalism in the sector. Two Japanese practices where considered to be very impressive and effective: first that even senior Japanese managers spent a very substantial time in operational duties (driver, conductor, etc.) and second that management positions are rotated in Japan across the whole of a railway organisation to ensure a thorough knowledge of the many aspects of the railway business. Dutch senior managers have much less operational experience and certainly in a much less systematic way, while the ‘circulation’ of management throughout the organisation is severely hampered by the separation between NS and ProRail and the typical career path of European managers. Compared to the Japanese management approach, the Dutch/European approach tends to be more focussed on the manager’s career, changing companies on several occasions in his life. Consequently, and this was stated by one of the senior interviewees, the company is managed by people ‘passing by’ and there may be problems in guaranteeing sufficient knowledge build-up and personal commitment to improvement.”


ll sounds a bit like UK government, Patrick. No one hangs around long enough (Jeremy Hunt excepted perhaps) to learn enough about the role to do more than utter corporate words. We have someone who failed the probation system now bringing expertise to bear to fail the rail system.
It’s not been a good week for me this week I’m afraid.

The latest Private Eye, with it’s regular column on the railways, has an interesting item on the new Japanese high speed trains which are being used in the UK a way not originally imagined leading to many breakdowns.

Apparently recently only 50% were available to run their required routes. Overheating the engines appears to be the weakness but it is the decisions not to electrify etc which means theses hybrids are running much more as diesels rather than electric.

This article is interesting but the comments after are rather scathing of the articles conclusion:

You will no doubt appreciate that the details available make the Which? Conversation appear to be insubstantial in not covering the reasons and difficulties of running a railway. Basically red-top emotive rather than thoughtful and informative.

At the end of the day difficulties in running the rails are up to the companies and organisations that operate them, I as a customer only need to care that they run on time and are safe.

Which? response to latest ORR punctuality statistics
17 September 2018
Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of Which?, said:
“These latest statistics are damning but unsurprising given a year of delays and cancellations that have left many passengers at their wits’ end. …..

The only ORR data I can find is up to May 2018. Maybe Which? have a preview of the latest data that is due to be published on Sept 20th. The earlier ORR data says:

1. National Performance Overall, the punctuality of GB rail services has improved in 2017-18, compared with 2016- 17, however this is primarily as a result of the improvement in the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR). The reliability of GB rail services has remained static, with the proportion of trains cancelled or seriously delayed remaining the same as a year earlier. National Punctuality (PPM) in Q4 was 86.4%. This has worsened by 2.7 pp compared with Q4 in 2016-17. National Punctuality (PPM) in 2017-18 was 87.8%, an improvement of 0.1 pp compared with 2016-17. National Reliability (CaSL) in Q4 was 4.8%. This has worsened by 1.4 pp compared with Q4 in 2016-17. National Reliability (CaSL) in 2017-18 was 3.9%, the same as 2016-17. There was considerably more weather related disruption across the majority of train operating companies in Q4 of 2017-18 compared with Q4 of 2016-17. The storms and snow in February and March 2018 were major contributors to this.

I expect the summer of disrupted services caused largely by GTR will give poorer figures. However, they should not be used, as a particular case, to condemn a whole industry.

Incidentally, when Which? publish a press release I wish they would give a link to the source of their information. The ORR report in this case. @gmartin, could you see what you can do please?

I’ll have a chat with the press team.

@gmartin, morning George. Thank you.

We concentrate on rail, but I wonder if there is similar data for road public transport and how their timekeeping is viewed? How do those passengers cope with delays to commuter coach services for example?

You’re welcome. I’d have to ask about the availability of that data. I’ll see if I can find anything.

And a note to all – we’ve just updated this convo with the latest news. Here’s the government’s statement: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-announces-root-and-branch-review-of-rail

And here’s our press release: https://press.which.co.uk/whichstatements/which-responds-to-launch-of-rail-review/

Thanks Malcolm. We got that comprehensively covered between us! Teamwork.

@gmartin. 🙂

The essence of the ORR report is:
1. National Performance Overall,
The punctuality of GB rail services has worsened in the first quarter of 2018-19, compared with both the same quarter a year earlier, and with the year ending Q1 2017-18. The reliability of GB rail services has also worsened, compared with both the same quarter a year earlier, and with the year ending Q1 2017-18.

National Punctuality (PPM) in Q1 was 87.0%. This has worsened by 3.7 pp compared with Q1 in 2017-18. The MAA stands at 86.9%, a decrease of 1.2 pp compared with the Q1 2017-18 MAA, and is the lowest quarterly PPM MAA since Q4 2005-06.

National Reliability (CaSL) in Q1 was 4.4%. This has worsened (increased) by 1.5 pp compared with Q1 in 2017-18. The MAA stands at 4.2%, an increase of 0.6 pp compared with the Q1 2017-18 MAA.

London and the South East was the only sector to see a year-on-year improvement in PPM MAA. All sectors had a year-on-year worsening in CaSL MAA.

(PPM is the measure of punctuality. CaSL is the measure of cancellations or significantly late. MAA – moving annual average).

An inquiry was held into the May 2018 disruption/timetable failures

September 2018 findings
20 September 2018

The three-month Inquiry has found that Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Northern, the Department for Transport (DfT), and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) all made mistakes, which contributed to the collapse of services, particularly on the GTR and Northern routes.

A key issue, found by the Inquiry, is that there is an apparent gap in industry responsibility and accountability for managing systemic risks, and that needs to change.

Other key findings are:
• The System Operator (SO) function within Network Rail was in the best position to understand and manage the risks, but did not take sufficient action, especially in the critical period of autumn 2017
• Neither GTR nor Northern were properly aware of or prepared for the problems in delivering the timetable and they did not do enough to provide accurate information to passengers when disruption occurred
• Both DfT and ORR are responsible for overseeing aspects of the industry, but neither sufficiently questioned assurances they received from the industry about the risk of disruption.

Announcing the setting up of an inquiry into the railway operation as a whole in advance of the publication of bad news is a crude attempt to forestall criticism (“ ah, we’re are already doing something about it”). However, those involved should be continually monitoring performance and taking action when things begin to deviate. The railways have not suddenly been hit by an unforeseeable event. Action should be taken routinely to deal with problems before they get out of hand.

As the ORR report into the timetable problem illustrates there is disfunction in all four parties operations, and particularly in coordination and cooperation between parties. This is something that the DfT and the Minister are responsible for. They have failed. They need to recognise this, stop blaming everyone else, and set to designing a much-improved way of working.

Well, for what it’s worth, that’s my view.

Malcolm, thanks for those insights.

I can’t help thinking that a lot of our current problems result from the crazy ways we’ve used to privatise and regulate the rail industry.

I don’t think British Railways was a model of how to run such a complex industry either, Derek. However, it did have the inherent advantage of overall control of the whole industry. Whether they were capable of using that to full advantage I doubt. And they were still, maybe even more, susceptible to political interference for party ends.

It is interesting that since privatisation in 1998, passenger numbers have grown from 750 million a year to 1750 million – 2.3 times – and generally punctuality has been pretty similar (near 90% normally) despite a far more crowded system.

I’ve just heard an interview on Radio 4 News at One with a promoter of rail nationalisation. Bumbling, partly incoherent and admitted no knowledge of the finances involved. I would not rule out a national (not necessarily nationalised) organisation, but if this represents the level of competence that those who might be involved have, I fear for our future.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said:
But it is clear that the structure we inherited is no longer fit to meet today’s challenges and cope with increasing customer demand. Following the disruption this summer we took immediate action to improve services and ensure the industry compensated passengers.
We’ve been clear that the railway needs reform to prioritise its passengers, and we have set out plans for closer partnerships between operators of track and train, including on the LNER and South Eastern networks…..

I hope he considers his, and his ministry’s, role in this and does absolve themselves from responsibility for lack of proper oversight.

Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of Which?, said:

“The last twelve months have exposed the serious lack of leadership in the industry. But passengers are sick of finger pointing and simply want to be able to rely on their train service.
“Ensuring the rail system works in the future is important, but this much needed review cannot be used as an excuse to delay real action to improve passengers’ experiences on the trains today.

I couldn’t agree more with P V-S in this instance. What I do not want to see as a long reporting process followed by a long consultation and implementation process before some bits might be eventually put into practice.

The phrase “low hanging fruit” should apply. They should, as part of the overall inquiry, have teams looking at obvious deficiencies that can be remedied relatively easily and quickly without detriment to a long term plan.