/ Travel & Leisure

Will you be attempting to travel by train this Easter?

train travel

With more than 20 million cars expected on the roads and over 200 rail engineering works taking place this Easter, if you’re looking to get away this weekend, expect things to be busy…

In the run-up to the last Easter bank holiday, I spent a good deal of time and energy stressing about how I was going to get from where I live in London to my parents’ house in the North East.

Would it be better to drive, take the train, or even fly?

Weighing up the options, the main thing that crossed my mind was the sense that it would be a total nightmare – I’d be caught in travel chaos whichever form of transport I chose. According to the tabloids, Armageddon awaits anyone who dares to venture outside their own front door.

Rail fail

Too often, rather than being a glorious four-day weekend that sees you setting out across the rolling green of Britain to see family or friends, our bank holidays end up in travel hell.

And if you’re travelling by rail, this feels particularly like it’s the case, with 50.9 million passenger journeys either cancelled or significantly late in the past 12 months.

This weekend alone, there will be more than 200 rail engineering works taking place. So, if things do go wrong on your train journey, can you expect the company you’re travelling with to do enough to help put it right?

Well, we’d all like to think so – especially so when our Easter plans rely on a working train network! Sadly, our railways are plagued by delays, cancellations, overcrowding and poor train conditions – and that is exactly why we’re campaigning to demand better rail services.

In our latest surveys, only 17% of leisure travellers who’ve been delayed remembered their train operator informing them of their right to compensation as a result of a delay.

And we’ve found that only a third (33%) of passengers who may have been entitled to compensation said they actually made a claim.

The main reasons cited by those who chose not to make one was that they didn’t know how, or thought it was too difficult and/or time-consuming.

Of those passengers that did make a claim, one in five reported that they found doing so difficult.

Consumer rights

Of course, we hope that things don’t go wrong for any of you travelling by rail this weekend, but if they do, remember you have a number of important rights.

In October 2016 we hailed a ‘win’ for rail passengers as the Consumer Rights Act was extended to cover rail travel. This means that your train company must provide you a service with ‘reasonable care and skill’ and any written or verbal information is binding if you’ve relied on it for your plans.

If you do get delayed, be sure to claim compensation, our rail compensation tool can help you make a claim. By claiming you’re helping to keep up the pressure on train companies to improve their services.

If your train company is signed up to the Delay Repay scheme, you may be able to claim 50% of the ticket cost back if your train half an hour late, and the full price if it’s delayed by over an hour.

So will you be taking the train anywhere this Easter weekend? Are you concerned about being delayed at all? If you were delayed on a train would you claim compensation?


‘Will you be attempting to travel by train this Easter?’ – Yes! Off home to the Forest (New) on South West Trains. I’m not looking forward to the rush and desperately I won’t have to stand for the best part of 2hours. I’ve had to do that and it’s not fun.

As far as delays, I’m leaving from Waterloo so that is definitely a possibility and I’ll return to share my ‘train hell’ if it transpires that way…

So far so good. I even have a seat with a table. Running on ⌚

Train journeys are a good time to catch up with Which? Convo, especially when others are not very talkative.

Seems to me that when you have over-demand for a service you either charge more for it to regulate demand or it goes to pot as you do not have the capacity to service abnormal demands.

What bugs me is why people choose to travel at Easter at all. And then demand sympathy if there are problems. I cannot recall anytime in the last two decades that I have travelled over a holiday other than when cruising. It may well be longer than two decades.

Incidentally the benefits of being able to claim for late running trains to me seems to be a sticking plaster to a patient whilst a hospital collapses around them from bad organisation and insufficient investment. But it is populist and who needs or should think long-term. As far as I see it we could enter a vicious spiral were compensation decreases income , decreases investment and worsens the service.

The interesting thing is that if the operating companies find it unprofitable and the cap on pricing stays then they would hand the franchises back to the government. Long term nationalisation! of a strategic resource.??

People like to go home and be with their families at Easter, Patrick. At least that’s what I’m doing. It’s nice to be out of London and in the New Forest.

The team ticket for an hour and 45min was £50 – I could fly to a city in Europe for less 😉

Patrick old chap, when a service or facility is oversubscribed, we British just form a jolly old queue and wait for our turn.

May of our road users will be familiar with this concept, not least those who, at peak times or holidays, use the Cirencester to Gloucester dual cabbageway (A417) or any of our other linear car parks (aka “Motorways”) .

Patrick S’s concerns seemed to be mainly to do with possible overcrowding rather than disruption due to engineering work so, as he managed to bag himself a seat with a table [and hopefully with free wi-fi and a power socket], I hope he had a pleasant journey. It might have been possible to get a cheaper fare with advance booking but surely he bought a return ticket so is getting three-and-a-half hours of pleasant train travel for his £50. Of course he could have flown from an airport within an hour of London to another one a similar timescale from a continental city for the same price but he wanted to be with his family and there is a price on that. I doubt he will be out of pocket in the end and he might have saved time overall. Perhaps he would have preferred the security checks that come with air travel?

Public holidays concentrate a need for high volume travel. Those who travel know that, so why complain about it – they are the ones causing the congestion. Take a day’s holiday and beat the crowds.

I have never before seen so much advance publicity about the railway engineering works taking place over the Easter weekend. Big adverts in local papers, posters and leaflets in stations, outdoor advertising at bus stops and elsewhere. Everyone who travels should be aware of the possible disruption. The notices about engineering work at stations make it clear that where necessary a railway replacement bus service will operate or the train will take a diversionary route and approximate estimates of extended journey times are given. I hope compensation claims will be moderated if these conditions are met by the train operator.

Although 200 engineering operations will be carried out over this weekend the result will not be so extreme as is being made out. Some of them are overnight and will have little affect on daytime services, some are part of continuing operations that are subject to emergency timetables or cancellations anyway, and most of them have been planned so that if a main line is closed as much separate engineering work as possible is carried out along that line at the same time thus containing the disruption and reducing future impacts. Wherever possible alternative main-line routes are clear of disruption, so that, for example, between Norwich and London the direct route to London Liverpool Street is partially blocked [with rail replacement bus services] but the alternative route to London King’s Cross and the secondary route to London Liverpool Street via Bishops Stortford are both running [with amended timetables]; both require a change at Cambridge and journey times will be longer than on the direct main line but rail travel remains viable.

Until a few years ago, rail travel on Good Friday was very limited and a Sunday timetable was operated. In most cases now the Saturday timetable is operated because demand is similar and travel is popular because off-peak fares are available on earlier trains [a benefit not mentioned in the Intro!].

Essential maintenance work is carried out at holiday times to avoid disruption to commuters when we’re all going to work – so I understand. It has to be done at sometime. “Journey times will be longer”; we are seemingly obsessed with time. Does it really matter if we take an extra half hour or so to reach our destination on a holiday? Plan for it and read another couple of chapters. In many cases it seems a matter of principle to complain if something goes a little wrong. A culture I don’t like. We all of us foul up in our jobs at some times; do we relish someone sitting on our shoulder ready to pounce and penalise us, or do we learn from it and do better next time?

I was going to sign the petition as included in the Conversation:
” Sign our petition to demand better rail services” but as it does not explain what “better” entails it seems we are being asked to sign a blank cheque.

Anyway I persevered and looking further found a link and this is the statement:
” Take the rail industry to task and demand a better service

Our railways are plagued by delays, cancellations, constant overcrowding and hideous train conditions. Passengers are also paying more than ever but still arriving at their destination late and frustrated. It’s unacceptable. We deserve trains that run for passengers, not just the rail industry. Sign our petition to demand better rail services.”

So the actual petition site really goes no further forward in suggesting solutions just some more stating the obvious problems and asking for a signature . My memory may be faulty but i did understand what the Consumers’ Association “Carbusters” campaign was about – a campaign with good specific aims and a mechanism for improving matters.

Perhaps Which? could do something more specific but relevant like campaigning against excessive salaries, particularly charity executives and poor governance.

Which? seems to just stop at petitions with “something must be done” – but no proposals as to what. That seems like either a lack of knowledge, lack of expertise to pursue a constructive investigation, or just headline-grabbing in a lazy way. We have a “Whirlpool must recall all defective driers” – exactly how and what will be achieved?

Come on Which? People in these Convos try to make positive suggestions as to how we can improve pollution from cars, make energy prices fairer, establish a product recall system that might work, deal with unarranged overdrafts………….. Isn’t it time you took some notice and did more groundwork to formulate realistic and constructive approaches to some of these consumer problems? Or get contributors to work with you and tap into their experience? Something must be done…………………….:-)

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“Which? Policy

Which? Policy underpins all the work we do to campaign for consumers

The Which? mission is to make individuals as powerful as the organisations they have to deal with in their daily lives. We identify where consumers are experiencing problems, and through programmes of research, debate and consumer dialogue we develop effective, practical policy solutions.”


Strangely it makes no mention here (that I can see) of testing products – a substantial pert of its work, and appeal to consumers.

Its aims (plus testing) are laudable and what we need, but it needs to do more than complain and identify weaknesses; in my view it need to put constructive, practical and realistic proposals to those who can make changes. Whirlpool was a total failure of action.

However, sorry for going off-topic. Lets hope most of those who travelled by train arrived at their destinations without too much hassle.

I won’t go on about it here but I wish we could have a good discussion on the whole world of charities and how they operate.

Just for information, registered charities in the UK have to have at least one of three broad purposes: propagation of religious knowledge, education, or (loosely) welfare. There are also eleemosynary charities which are based on the giving of alms [the relief of poverty]. Which?’s charitable status derives from its educational purpose.

Which? is independent, and not an arm of government or a front for business [although it might appear like that sometimes]. But it is so big and involved in such a wide range of activities that it does need highly-qualified and competent executive leadership, good management, and talented staff. Those are not available on the economy shelf so members and subscribers need to keep an eye on it and hold it to account. We don’t give donations to Which? as we would to a racing tortoise rescue centre and leave it to the charity to spend it how it likes within its constitution; we have legitimate expectations and entitlements in return for our subscriptions.

John Ward – I have obviously had concerns about the Consumers’ Association and its commerical persona but I have for the past four years been looking at charities generally and most importantly the ones that “go wrong”.

I have made submissions to the Charity Commission and my 6 pge submission to the House of Lords Committee on Charities was published as part of the Report released last month.

You can get daily emails from Third Sector and Civil Society which deal with the charity scene.
The Charity Commission do send me emails announcing various things as this week putting more pressure on auditors to report Governance failings such as conflicts of interest. Also email on charities now subject to investigation or production of s report. That some charities pay 90% to a commercial fundraising company is a continuing scandal.

P.S. Your penultimate paragraph I think misrepresents matters. The nine man executive Board of the National Trust together earn less than the top three of Which?/CA. Bearing in mind NT has 6 times the members, ten times the staff, and over 4 times the income one might feel that there is a problem with our charity paying £480,000+ to its CEO.

As a rider I would say Which?/CA does have talented staff and of course does some good stuff. However when you see 5 members of staff deployed making a video on an electric unicycle costing £990 which is not legal in the UK you may take a view the plot has been lost.

I have no idea if they were loaned the two machines [likely] or bought them but what a waste of time, and effort, and did nothing for the image of the organisation judging by the comments on YouTube.

I was reading a good article on Mother Earth on sharpening garden tools which made me think that Which? surely should enable itself as the go to place for subscribers for anything. In this instance subscribers could be directed to the article and Which? could link to sharpening implements available in the UK.

Incidentally Which?’s advice ” How can I keep my kitchen knife sharp? Most plain-edged knives need sharpening to maintain a safe, sharp cutting edge. The secret is to sharpen little and often.” rather leaves a definition of “often” out of the advice. One of my books claims two onions diced is sufficient for a knife to dull.

which.co.uk/reviews/kitchen-knives/article/kitchen-knives/your-kitchen-knife-questions-answered – Which?

I agree with your comments, Patrick but do not think it would be right to pursue this discussion in the middle of this Conversation. I wished to take a more general view, from the overall perspective of consumers’ interests in charities as supporters or beneficiaries, and not focus on Which? or on picking faults with specific organisations.

Hello, thanks for your comment and feedback – it’s useful to have this for future reviews of how we structure the content for campaigns. Of course, we seek to campaign for solutions, rather than against problems, in whatever campaign we’re running. But for rail, we actually chose to launch the campaign to to learn more from rail users about what problems they come up against to shape the development of the campaign – that’s why we’ve been asking supporters for their stories and experiences.

We’ve been analysing these responses to structure the next steps of the campaign. Going forward, the campaign will be shifting into making much more specific calls for reform, based on the feedback we’ve received from supporters.

In our campaign, we’re focusing on three main areas – ticketing, compensation, and regulation. We want to see smart ticketing introduced all across the rail network, with key changes made in how information and prices are presented, in order to make it easier for people to get the cheapest available ticket. We also want to see the introduction of automatic compensation wherever possible, making it easier for customers to get their money back when they experience a delay. Finally, we want to see a proper Ombudsman established for rail, and for the regulator to be give more powers to work in the interests of passengers.

According to reports (PEYE) smart card flexible ticketing is currently dead in the water. DfT have spent £45M developing it for the 11 south east franchises but, because of the relatively short length of franchises, the companies are unwilling to invest in the equipment. However, it is in use – Essex to London Fenchurch St.

Just to add here, Patrick, I think you miss the ‘More’ tag which reveals further content and our campaign asks:

We want:

– Train companies to respect passenger rights and comply with the law;
– The regulator given real teeth to hold the rail industry to account; and
– The government to swiftly bring forward reforms that put passengers first.


Our new campaign website design won’t hide our asks behind a ‘more’ link, so you’ll see more of what we’re asking for.

Here’s more detail from our Consumer Agenda for Government:

Which? wants the next Government to:

• Establish a mandatory, statutory Transport Ombudsman that all train companies and airlines must join; ensure that passenger rights are protected as we leave the EU; and establish a new UK-based compensation scheme covering all airlines that fly to and from the UK.

• Strengthen the powers and duties of the Office of Rail and Road, so that it more clearly puts the rights of passengers first.


The number of people using the railways has increased to record levels, with more rail passengers in the UK than any other European country. While privatisation has brought improvements and benefits, Which? research shows that over one in five consumers think that their train service has worsened in the last year.

We are concerned that train companies are letting their passengers down. Passengers’ trust in the rail industry has fallen to just 26% in March 2017, a drop in 11% from the same time last year and distrust is up 10% to 33%. Rail companies are now less trusted than energy companies. Latest statistics show that the number of actions taken to deal with passenger capacity levels reached a new high in 2015, with over a third of passengers experiencing a delay of at least 30 minutes in the last six months.

Given the structure and operation of the market, there is weak competitive pressure and little incentive for train companies to up their game. An example of this is the inadequacy of the current complaint handling landscape in the rail sector. As a result, reforms are needed to ensure that the industry really does put passengers first. There are major gaps in the provision of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) with no effective route for redress and escalation of complaints if a train company does not resolve a passenger’s complaint. Transport Focus, which currently handles some passenger complaints on an informal basis, has no ability to impose binding decisions and no power to resolve complaint appeals. Which? believes that all political parties should commit to establishing a transport ombudsman that is mandatory for all train operating companies – as well as airlines – to join. It should be established via legislation and should be independent of the rail industry, as well as the aviation industry.

Party manifestos should commit to reforming and empowering the rail regulator (ORR). As it stands ORR’s duties currently do not make clear enough the regulator’s primary role in promoting the interests of passengers. Their duties are long and complex, requiring the ORR to balance the interests of the industry, government and “users”. Which? wants the rail regulator to put the passenger first and protect them rather than prioritising the interests of the rail industry and government above consumers. All political parties should commit to reforming the regulators’ duties to make them more consumer-focused by having a specific consumer duty, rather than just a regard to the “end user”. The party manifestos should ensure that the ORR has clear duties and powers to effectively hold the train companies to account when they breach licence conditions and consumer law.

Thank you, Patrick T, for reminding us that Which?’s official opinion on the railways is that “Our railways are plagued by delays, cancellations, constant overcrowding and hideous train conditions“.

I find that one of the most appallingly ignorant and irresponsible statements that a respected research organisation could make. I trust it excludes Northern Ireland’s railways [Translink]. I agree that the mainland railways suffer from service defaults as any complex operation does, but not all the time, on every route, every day. The overwhelming majority of passengers across the UK experience satisfactory journeys in clean modern trains [with one of the youngest fleets in Europe and by far the best safety record]. Did Which? consult the transport consumer representative organisations before making such tendentious claims in relation to the petition?

As Malcolm said above, overcrowding is a product of demand which has doubled since privatisation yet few are left standing on platforms and remedies are progressing. Systematic cancellations are usually the result of strikes or weather conditions.

It’s a vacuous statement, to be sure, but Which? has fallen into the trap of assuming what happens in the SE is the standard across the UK, which it isn’t. Virgin, for instance, has never performed less than perfectly in my experience, but I do understand that some of Southern’s passengers may have cause for complaint. So I would not sign the petition, since I have no cause for dissatisfaction.

As a simple example, during my day out from Gloucester to Worcester this week, both outward and return trains ran on time, the carriages were not at all crowded and the seats were clean and in as new condition.

That’s absolutely disgraceful, Derek. Whatever has happened to service and standards? I’ve had exactly the same experience on Chiltern Line. Maybe we should survey people to see how many have had such service and see what can be done about it?

Phil says:
15 April 2017

” Which?’s official opinion on the railways is that “Our railways are plagued by delays, cancellations, constant overcrowding and hideous train conditions“. ”

I suspect this is based on their personal experience which is limited to commuting in and out of London.

Morning John, thanks for your comment. Of course, our campaigning work is backed up by research undertaken by our team of researchers and analysts. In terms of the rail campaign – every year we run a passenger satisfaction survey, which was published most recently in the Jan 2017 issue of Which?. We took a representative sample of the UK of over 7000 people who have used the train in the last 12 months. This bore out the fact that 37% of people feel their train company is poor value for money. One third of commuters had to stand in their last journey, and a third of people were delayed the last time they travelled. In terms of overall scores, the average consumer satisfaction for the industry as a whole is 51%. The survey includes Northern Ireland, where 16% of respondents called themselves dissatisfied with their journeys. 1 in 3 commuters told us they were delayed last time they travelled, and less than 20% of people told us they had been informed of their rights or how to claim compensation by the train company.

Thanks for the feedback on the level of detail we provide in our campaigns page though, this is certainly helpful feedback as it does differ to other feedback, but we’re always keen to review our content and see where we can improve to meet readers needs.

Gosh, . . . thanks Lauren: I wrote that so long ago I had forgotten about it. I cannot fault the survey responses but the extrapolation and interpretation seemed to veer on the side of sensational. Let me be a bit sensational too:

Why should national rail commuters expect their journeys to be any more comfortable and uncrowded than London Underground journeys? And it’s only because they have a public timetable that they know whether their train is late or not! tube trains do not run according to a public timetable and people don’t fret over the odd delay. If a train delay is repetitive then the timetable is wrong.

I think there is a pessimism bias in passenger transport surveys but it is impossible to put a statistical value on it so we have to make up our own minds on how we interpret them. I have a lot of sympathy for commuters but my perspective differs from theirs.

London Transport does run to a very strict underground timetable, partly ensuring that trains do not have to stop in tunnels. There have been times when I’ve heard announcements of a train being cancelled or late, but because they are normally so frequent it really makes little difference.

Did Lauren’s train get delayed over Easter so has only just got back into the office?

Commuters, like people who choose to live near airports, know the game, Nothing will improve until we stagger working hours and move businesses out of heavily-populated towns and cities so commuting can be reduced. That requires longer-term planning, not something 5 year governments seem to want to tackle.

I know, John and you’ve been waiting far too long for a response – I can only apologise for that. We have collected these passenger surveys and the feedback an opinions of those who use rail transport in the UK inform our campaigning work. The survey is an annual feature at Which? and is conducted in a way that we get the most accurate picture possible of the experiences people have using rail transport – it’s not all about commuters either, while they are the ones that experience these problems most often, I’ve been sifting through plenty of stories recently of people who’ve been leisure travellers and have missed connecting trains, flights and even a christening.

Agreed, Lauren. It happens on the roads, on ferries, and in the air as well. Until we can teleport ourselves, I tend to go along with Malcolm’s outlook.

The London Underground certainly runs to a timetable [the working timetable] but it is not made publicly available so passengers are unaware of it. The Metropolitan and District lines were the last to have timetables displayed on the platforms; now, so far as the travelling public are concerned, they operate on a service interval basis and inter-station timing information. The national rail services are much more complex [with many more interconnexions and junctions where train presentation in the correct order is essential] which means that the train operating companies are under more pressure and where one small delay has knock-on effects over a whole peak hour service. As I said earlier, half the problems are cause by Network Rail but the train companies get it in the neck; if we can achieve automatic delay-repay at least the companies will be less able to profit from NR-attributable delays by claiming more in compensation than they pay out to passengers.

It would be useful if Which? researched the facts when publishing statements. I’d like to know the overall standard of UK rail performance, how it compares with the Continental railways, for example. There follow two links. I’ve made no attempt to draw any conclusions from them, but I would expect Which? to look at published data, inform us, and make considered judgements.



A lot of Which?’s spite is directed at the train operating companies but many of the problems are due to track faults, signalling failures, and other infrastructure problems which are Network Rail’s responsibility. And then there are suicides, and people who crash into level crossing gates, or jump down onto the tracks to retrieve their mobile phone.

Nice to see a sighting of the rare (possibly endangered) Steenus Patrickitus, however.