Every year Which? asks how satisfied people are with banks, energy companies, shops, airlines – the list goes on. But we’ve never asked about train companies – until now.
You might be thinking there’s a reason for that: you can’t choose your train company, whereas you can switch your energy company or shop somewhere else on the high street.
But surely that captive market makes it all the more important for train companies to do a good job?
Well, our train survey of 4,092 passengers found very low levels of customer satisfaction. The overall customer score across all types of train journeys was low at 48%. Commuter journeys did worst, with a lowly score of just 44%. And leisure journeys fared slightly better, with 53%.
Virgin Trains looks to be on the right track, being awarded the highest customer score (64%) among all train companies in our survey. Bottom of the table was Southeastern, scoring just 40% – overcrowding, high fares and delays were cited as key issues.
The fast, the slow, the even slower
But while you don’t usually have a choice of train company for most services, that isn’t always the case. Here’s an example. My parents live in Leeds; I live in London. Cue lots of trips between the two.
It took me a while to twig this, but there are actually two companies running trains between them. The quicker East Coast train takes 2 hours 20 minutes via Doncaster, whereas the slower East Midlands train takes 3 hours via Sheffield. The latter has cheaper tickets and older trains I find comfier, but far fewer journeys.
Then came further enlightenment – there was an even slower (4 hours) and cheaper East Midlands train, which has a very leisurely mosey before finally heading to Leeds. My wife made it abundantly clear that we wouldn’t be taking that one again…
It’s the same with Birmingham to London, where there’s a choice of Virgin Trains, London Midland or Chiltern Railways. Three different routes; three different prices; and three different customer scores.
What if we could pick between train companies?
However, despite privatisation of the railways, there’s usually never a direct choice to pick a train company that offers a better service or cheaper ticket price. That’s because of how the industry is structured, making it difficult for new companies to come into the market and sometimes prohibiting direct competition.
But if you did have a choice, would you pick a train company based on how good its service was, or how cheap its tickets were? It’s clear that train companies need to improve across the board – maybe if we could pick between them it would pull up the quality of all their services?