/ Travel & Leisure

Picture your train travel heaven…


Our latest research reveals that rail passengers experience delayed, dirty and overcrowded trains. With trust in rail also slipping, we want to know what your idea of a better rail service would be.

Earlier this year we called out for people to share with us their stories of train hell – we wanted to know what makes your experiences of rail journeys so unpleasant.

Thousands responded to our call for information and after sifting through these accounts, it certainly hasn’t painted a pretty picture of rail travel.

Rail services

Many train company were mentioned in these stories. We had reports of dirty and old trains, passengers packed in like sardines every time they travelled and many expressed irritation at delays and cancellations.

One supporter, Jerry, told us his train travel frustrations

‘Too many to mention – cancelled trains – trains curtailed – no trains to route that I usually use and every day in the morning mass overcrowding with fights on some days to squeeze further in – animals are treated better.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly there has been a significant shift in consumer trust across the rail industry – falling 11% in a year, from 37% in March 2016 to 26% in March 2017.

In March we ran a nationally representative survey asking people what their experience of train travel had been in the past six months. Many people reported problems with getting a seat due to overcrowding on at least one occasion and one in seven said this happened regularly.

We also had reports of delays with many passengers experiencing delays of up to 15 minutes and one in ten saying that they faced frequent delays.

It’s clear that the rail sector is failing its passengers too often.

For Fabiano there’s an injustice when you consider the cost of the service:

‘It’s unacceptable, I’m not getting the train for free and I’m not asking any favour! I’m paying an expensive ticket to get a horrible service.’

Taking action

But it’s hardly breaking news that people aren’t overly satisfied with the standard of rail services in the UK. As many of you will know we’ve been campaigning on problems with the rail sector for some time now, and while we’ve seen some progress with wins like the extension of the Consumer Rights Act to cover rail travel, there’s still work to be done.

That’s why we want the next government to take action and ensure passengers get a much better standard of service. It’s not acceptable that passengers should have to endure such poor experiences on our railways.

We believe change will be possible by introducing an independent, statutory ombudsman, and a stronger regulator that’s prepared to stand up for passengers.

Travelling by train shouldn’t be a hellish experience. So how would you make train travel more pleasurable? What would your train travel heaven look like? Do you want the government to take action and improve rail standards?


I am not a regular train traveller but have rarely had problems. Obviously there are some severe problems with rail services but I wonder how many happy customers there are.

I am generally able to buy tickets in advance. I am aware that they are non-refundable, but regard this as an unreasonable condition. Why not allow refunds of 50% if customers know in advance that they will have to change their travel plans?

We travel regularly by train to places like Vienna, Zermatt, Amsterdam, Paris and around the UK. We have to use Virgin to get to London, then Eurostar, Thalys and a few others to get round Europe.

I can’t see any way they could make the Virgin trains any better. They’re clean, you can book the seat you want with the position you want, they’re unfailingly on time, quiet, uncrowded and generally delightful and far, far better than flying any day.

Arriva trains are the intra-Wales train company and they’re adequate, although become crowded at times. Crowding seems to be the main issue elsewhere, which might not have been the problem it is had Beeching and Marples between them not worked a massive con-trick in ripping up half the network. But more folk want to travel by train, so we clearly need more track. Hopefully, HS2 and 3 will help resolve some of that and make our railways somewhere foreign visitors will see as a destination, not simply a means of travel.

It’s only more track and station capacity that will convey the continually rising number of passengers but that requires demolition and huge disruption in and around our cities. If we continue to allow any number of people to turn up at any station at any time and pack onto any train in which the seats are all occupied then there is bound to be a degree of dissatisfaction and the possibility of complaints. And if we continue to allow people to move further and further down the line meaning that more trains have to occupy the tracks close to the city centres we are asking for trouble.

There is a limit to what the train operating companies can do to mitigate this and they are probably already working on it so far as they can within their short franchises. “Longer trains” people say – but that is not the end of it; that means a massive alteration to the signalling, changing the junctions, extending the platforms [not easy at termini], and building longer depots and sidings. OK then – how about more same-length trains? Well there is a limit to how much you can push through a funnel – as all the branch lines converge on the main line – and still allow stopping services on the approaches to towns and cities. Dispersal of employment is the most rational solution.

Carrying commuters is a never-win situation. They pay the least per mile requiring the highest capacity over the shortest periods. Their complaints need to be put into perspective and not ranked pari passu with those of other passengers.

Beware the voice of reason and logic. This may become far too educational if we are not careful. : )

Given the number of train sim games available it is a shame that Which? does not recommend some so people could find out themselves the problems of running as service and remaining solvent. Education and fun.

Virgin has good physical trains but they have no concept of customer service. They also miss represent their internet ticketing . They say it is cheapest, however you can get but that might be true for advance ticketing but on the day you can get tickets that are cheaper and have much more flexibility. Also when you buy on the virgin trains site and something goes wrong virgin trains and virgin train are suddenly 2 companies referring you to each other> Same address, same CEO etc. Its a farce and costs more than the original ticket in dealing with them.
Even the dreaded British Rail was better on service.

I have to disagree with you on your point about commuters John. I am not a commuter but I have to accept that commuters should be looked after equally as well as other customers. They travel at times when trains are more crowded and therefore less comfortable; they have no choice over this as there is nearly always no reasonable alternative means of transport. However, it has to be remembered that they provide a guaranteed and advance income stream to the train operating companies which greatly facilitates their forward planning which we all benefit from.

Commuters require a large additional staff and traction/rolling stock at just two peak periods. This increases substantially capital and running costs. We should be finding ways of reducing this expensive and inefficient demand, short term by staggering working hours – thus spreading commuting over a longer period – and longer term by reducing the need for commuting – placing appropriate businesses and other employers out of large population centres.

We’ve travelled with Virgin a few times to London from Liverpool and agree that their service is very good. Always been on time,been able to reserve seats by booking ahead and had a quiet,quick,comfortable journey.
Eurostar to Paris also excellent and so speedy!

Nick _C says:
15 May 2017

“people could find out themselves the problems of running as service and remaining solvent”
Not really applicable to Stagecoach, aka South West Trains. They cream off the profits and consistently get away with a premier league ticket price for a fourth division service. The cards are all stacked in their favour and they know it, and it shows. to add insult to injury, last time I checked, South West Trains was a privately owned company, so we can’t even get our pension funds to invest in their huge profitable, state sponsored, non competitive company.

Rush hour London commuters need more frequent trains, and cheaper prices. If you don’t share this view then you’re not travelling into London at rush hour, try it and you will quickly agree!

ElizabethMcloughlin says:
12 May 2017

The government should nationalize the trains so we would get a decent train service.

You now have an unexpected chance to vote for this again. Best of luck.

Vivienne says:
15 May 2017

Vote for Mr. Corbyn, then, & encourage others to do so.

If utilities and public services were renationalised, and well-managed, we would all benefit from economies of scale and joined-up thinking, instead of this incoherence where one company owns the track, another the rolling stock, etc.

The country needs a population policy but not a single party is willing even to mention the word.
Our train service is one of the worst in Europe as well as being one of the most expensive.

Transport by road is no better due to the awful congestion, terrible road provision and idiotic planning. Motorways turning into car parks. Massive housing programs to accommodate millions more have been granted license but without an inch of new roads in many towns. Drivers face massive increase in car parking charges on top.

Too many people traveling at the same time and the population will double in the coming years.
Good business for rail companies, car sales, construction companies, utilities and fuel consumption but more suffering for the rest of us.

How would you reduce the travelling population to manageable levels, Moudl? A ban on holidays and leisure journeys would help. Or there could be a big rise in rail fares and tolls on all motorways. Various unpopular taxes [on energy, for example] could be transferred to road fuel. Long term it might be possible to limit family sizes by removing or reducing various family support measures. Which do you support?

Most of your comment is factually wrong, especially your second, third and fourth sentences.

…and the sixth…

I’d discard the idea of travel permits ( 🙂 ), but stagger working hours to reduce commuting congestion and then tackle commuting by moving employers out of congested areas. I might have suggested this before? Commuting causes the main congestion (except at bank holidays – more of those = more congestion?) and is expensive in the extra vehicles and staff needed for only two parts of the day.

A population policy is not a luxury. Matching what we have with what is being used and likely to be required by our growing population is far more intelligent that leaving it to chance. Acknowledging that we have a problem meeting the current need is a good start.

The economy has been steered to rely on limitless growth and endless consumption. At this rate our transport can only get slower, more expensive and congested.
Despite all the pressures on the health service, transport, housing, schooling and even the prison service, there are many in business who think it is good for trade to have an even bigger population.

This is not the forum to discuss this issue but if you are old enough to remember the 1970s, 80s and 90s you may be able to compare how travel and services were when the population was much smaller with what we see at present.

So what sort of population policy are you seeking, Moudl? Should we take the capacity of the vital infrastructures – housing, health, transport, energy, work – and, using the smallest, deduce a maximum sustainable population [categorised in age ranges] and then factor in what could be added as a result of improved performance in any of those areas and a rise in GDP? I would not be philosophically averse to such a controlled and manipulated economy and society but it would involve some very hard choices that politicians would no doubt wish to avoid. However, as an exercise it might be useful and provide good guidance to where and on whom your axe should fall. But what if we found we need to shed some ten million people in order to balance the equation?

I have raised the problems associated with population growth on various occasions and it seems to be something that people would prefer to ignore. I applaud Moudi for raising the subject.

Capitalism and materialism are major threats to the long-term survival of biological species and our present lifestyle is far from sustainable. Of all the species, humans have a unique ability to destroy our environment by introducing non-natural materials including toxic agrochemicals, non-biodegradable plastics and a large number of chemicals that cause problems in wastewater, landfill and the atmosphere.

I don’t think there is anything in our genes that has directed our evolution towards capitalism, population growth and unsustainable consumption.

I don’t know if you have any thoughts about this, John, but maybe we could divert the discussion to The Lobby because we are supposed to be discussing train travel.

Yes, I agree with your outlook and it would be better to discuss it in The Lobby. I have copied the relevant texts across.

Thanks John. It might be worth doing this when other Conversations go off the rails.

I’ve just travelled to Manchester and back by train.

Overall, for me, it was a far better experience than doing the same trip by road or air.

Alice says:
13 May 2017

I live 400yds or so from a local branch line station in Chandlers Ford, Hampshire. I work in Southampton. Every day, I sit in a queue of cars and buses trying to get into the city. My workplace is one mile from the station. There are irregular bus links from the station, despite my workplace being on a fairly busy travel to work/learn route which also links up with routes to the university hospital – one of the largest employers in the city. Problem? Trains from my local station run only hourly, and we also need regular environmentally friendly bus/tram links from there. As a starter, more frequent trains would help. Every 20 mins would be ideal. I’d walk the mile up to work for my health! The solution is public investment and some joined up thinking to create a transport service which serves the needs of all. If that can only be achieved through some form of nationalisation, then it has to be done, and I’d take the hit re personal taxation. Oh – and my car is a diesel – I thought I was doing the right thing when I bought it!

Gone are the days when branch lines served every community but at least you have a local service. Can you not get to Eastleigh which has a lot more trains (60 a day, apparently)? Perhaps alter your working hours to coincide with transport? I am not suggesting all solutions are easy or convenient but I must confess I am not in favour of subsidising transport. People do need to consider where they live and work in relation to traffic and transport. I worked 40 miles from home with no rail service (other than travelling in to a major town and out again), no buses and two congested road journeys. As I did not want to move house I chose to put up with the cost and inconvenience.

Didn’t someone say a paperless society with most people working from home?? You can’t deliver beer working from home etc… Use Chiltern frequently but avoid the massive peak hour crush that the vastly improved sevice has created. Marylebone had just 4 trains an hour in the early 70s & closure with transfer to Paddington was mooted . Did a nationalised railway create the current service & the jobs that go with it??

I want to go back to the days when I could walk into a train station, buy a ticket and board a train there and then. My son came back from abroad yesterday but chose a coach from Victoria to come up to Wirral – it cost him all of £14. When was the last time one could make an off the cuff decision about taking a train or travel on one for a sensible amount of money without some special permit or booking weeks in advance or endless research? I always thought Dr Beeching was a disaster not helped by successive governments’ determination not to invest in one of the easiest and fastest methods of travel in a small country, as proved by travel in Europe.

Things, and society, have changed too much since the days you hark back to Evelyn. The railways today would not be able to cope with the pressure of the scenario you desire [and it’s doubtful if they ever did].

Everybody agrees that half the lines ripped up by Dr Beeching [and by successive governments which were even more destructive] should have been left in place, but nobody agrees on which half. In my opinion the biggest loss was the Great Central main line from London through the Midlands to the North connecting many of our great cities – and built to a continental gauge as well.

Transport pricing is all about demand management and yield management. I wonder how many passengers on the coach from London to the Wirral went the whole distance and how many services run each day.

Airline style demand management is not working for railways – perhaps they should sell stand-by tickets. An advance ticket gives you a cheap (and fluctuating) price on a service that might have high demand. On the day other services will run with lots of empty seats and only expensive tickets for sale. If it were really priced by demand not only would popular services cost more, but cheap tickets could be sold on the day for “empty seats” on less popular services. In fact such tickets should get cheaper as departure time approaches! (Or you would be told if you wait for the 11.30 there are lots you can travel for £xx… )

Jackie says:
13 May 2017

I want to take the train; when it works it’s efficient, relaxing and better for the environment. Whenever I’ve been lucky enough to travel first class on Virgin it’s been great. But services on lines near me are often hampered by single track lines, a lack of quality rolling stock, and short platforms. Let’s upgrade our infrastructure and build more lines, stations and connections. Older carriages need replacing or refurbishing – with larger seats so that the middle one in groups of three isn’t always left empty. And there’s never enough room for suitcases on Fridays – how about a guard’s van? More staff at stations to help with ticket queries and prevent vandalism. On board, Crosscountry trains are too cramped, and the catering service is often unavailable. Passengers have a part to play too: I’d like to see more bins to encourage people to clear away their own litter and more people using the overhead luggage racks rather than taking a second seat for their bags. Then it needs to join up with other forms of transport to make the whole journey work: more car hire, taxi ranks and pick up/ drop off spaces at stations; buses that wait for delayed trains; and better services at weekends and on bank holidays.

I travel regularly from Harrogate to South London to visit my aged mother. Virgin East Coast is usually (but not always) on time and Northern Rail is improving. What would help is improved reliability and a smoother ride. Virgin says they are updating their fleet but I’ve yet to see it. Prices are usually okay if you are flexible about when you travel and if you can book ahead.

Chas says:
13 May 2017

“Come the revolution” Yes please let’s Nationalise the railways. If the French can do it surely we can.

To almost all questions the answer is the same. Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. The answer that political and managerial classes least want to hear. I.K. Brunel realised that carriages needed to be wider than farm carts. He is still right.

smug_alec says:
13 May 2017

One with comfortable seats might be a start – instead of the new-normal ironing boards.

People have been growing taller over the past 200 years. From the 1860’s to the 1930’s the legroom available to the third class/second class/standard class passenger gradually increased. It then stayed about the same until the 1970’s. Subsequently the legroom per passenger has decreased again. The greatest decrease in legroom has been on First Great Western in recent years. Are people in the South West getting smaller?

Since privatisation I have noticed an improvement in customer services but there are still a couple of areas that need vast improvement. Firstly, when there are problems, staff often go AWOL and announcements to keep customers informed are irregular, few and far between or non-existent. Secondly, I have witnessed thuggish and indiscreet behaviour by Revenue protection staff often discussing a customer’s “transgression” in front of other customers rather than dealing with the matter in private.

Last weekend we travelled from Liverpool to Stafford on the Virgin London train. As usual,on time and very comfortable.
At Stafford we were due to continue to Bristol on a Crosscountry train but were greeted by an electronic notice board that just read CANCELLED. Nothing else.
My wife and I then spent 10 minutes combing the station for further information or an official who could advise us. Zilch! Nada! Nichts! It was a Saturday so needless to say(??!!) the Information Office was shut!!!
We then joined a long queue in the booking office and were told our train had suffered a power failure en route and the next one would be an hour later. As we’d booked seats on the cancelled train,hoping to eat our packed lunch on it,we thought it better to eat early in the bleak environs of Stafford Station,in case no seats were available on the later train.
As it happens ,the later train had plenty of seats available and gave us a comfortable onward journey.
Power failures occasionally happen,that I understand.
What I CAN’T understand is the total lack of information at Stafford.
Very poor!

And Stafford is not a country branch-line station!

I consider the lack of information at interchange points one of the most challenging aspects of long-distance train travel. Regular station users probably know where to go and what to do but those unfamiliar with the station are left to flounder. I remember something similar during an emergency at Stockport once and we were all sent out onto the street on the back side of the station with no support or information. Cross Country is one of the least equipped operators because none of the stations its trains call at are managed by the company itself so it has to rely on the ‘goodwill’ of another company to deal with general arrangements, tickets, passenger information, and any incidents.

I suppose looking at your situation nihilistically, you were given correct and unambiguous information! – your expected train was not running so you would have to wait for the next timetabled service. All you had to do was find a timetable . . .

We were given the information EVENTUALLY,15/20 minutes after arrival at Stafford. The complete lack of staff on platforms and a locked Information Office were deeply unimpressive!
Later on,we did see station staff on the platforms,who informed us Stafford is run by Virgin.
Or was it virgins…..?

All this raving about train travel and re-nationalising the networks is only a short term solution. If global warming happens as all the doom merchants predict the world is screwed, what science needs to concentrate on is developing a method of fitting gills to the human body, was that Kevin Costner film prescience?
Glug glug to you all.

Several comments relate to Virgin trains and seem positive. I live in the east of the country and the train company Abellio Anglia is the one I have to use. Although normally reliable timewise,the trains are very old and dated,some still in operation since the 1970 s. The trains are dirty especially the seats, uncomfortable,and are generally overcrowded. It is not a pleasant experience and does not equate to the fares on this route. I believe the Company buys some of the rolling stock from other operators who are updating,so not a good start. Until there is uniform regulations across all the networks which are monitored,the individual companies will do as they like and poor service will continue.

Abellio/Matsui are operating the new Greater Anglia franchise that started in April 2017 and have ordered complete new fleets of trains for all the services, but it will be a year or two before they come into service. Carriages are built for a projected life time of forty years but get fully refurbished about three times during that period.

The Great Eastern mainline [London – Norwich] stock has just completed its full refurbishment even though it will be replaced within a couple of years. Some stock on other routes is in good condition having been refurbished recently but some – mainly on the loss-making country branches – is not so good but will be kept in decent condition until the replacement vehicles arrive. The new stock will provide much more capacity so wear-&-tear should be reduced. It will also have at-seat power points and wi-fi, new information systems, and be fully accessible with sliding doors.

On some services from Norwich to the coast the trains are hired in from an independent company and the carriages are even older [although in reasonable condition], but the locomotives are some of the newest on the network. These trains are more popular than the diesel railcars that otherwise operate the services.

Although the GB railways are not technically nationalised, the Department for Transport has a pretty firm grip on everything that goes on and through the franchising process has determined the amount of investment allowed. Unfortunately, East Anglia has suffered from having been held back for some decades. This is not the fault of the train operating companies. There have been a succession of franchises with different companies running the trains over the last twenty years and, as you say, the only changes in the rolling stock have involved transfers from other operators.

We live near the Norwich – Cambridge line and although the diesel trains are getting on a bit they are kept in good condition, are comfortable [with good air-conditioning], and clean, but the trains are too short for some peak journeys and there are no more units available to strengthen the services. This is a common problem across the country and when our trains are replaced by the new ones on order they will probably be sent to another part of the country to provide extra capacity. Nearly all the rolling stock in use in Great Britain is owned by leasing companies and merely leased by the train operating companies. The leasing companies try to maximise the service life of their assets.

People who use the former Greater Anglia routes between Shenfield and London Liverpool Street, now branded TfL Rail, will see brand new trains coming into in service later this month as part of the introduction of the Crossrail service. The best of the replaced stock will then be cascaded to other parts of the region or elsewhere in the country.

With the target life of a train remaining at forty years there will always be places that have older trains, but with corporate financing charges now being at relatively low levels some train companies are taking the opportunity to replace large numbers of carriages with new stock leading to a surplus of electric units becoming available, some very new, that could be transferred to places where older trains are not worth refurbishing. There remains a shortage of modern diesel units, however, and, generally, electric trains cannot be adapted economically to run on unelectrified lines. Network Rail’s electrification programme has been badly hit by massive cost-overruns and technical débacles, so forward planning has gone awry. These fiascoes are occurring in those part of the railway that are effectively nationalised and under tight (?) government control.

Sit back and enjoy my wish @ YouTube.com – Travel in Japan – A Look at the Japanese Railway.

Make sure you see the second half with the summary.

The Bullet train is rather small for us big folk. Certainly not designed for 6’+ folks .

Maybe you need a larger calibre Bullet Train. 🙂

There were a few lofty lads in our group on our journey from Hiroshima to Osaka. The spacious air conditioned interior very reminiscent of a jumbo jet I remember at the time.

I have not travelled on the Bullet Train but I was impressed by the cleanliness and efficiency of other trains in Japan, and how easy it was for me to understand destinations and prices. It was a stark contrast travelling on the Northern Line, soon after my return to England.

I was impressed by the efficiency of the whole system, especially where you had designated signs on the platform where the carriage doors stopped immediately in line with to expedite boarding (you have 3 minutes). I thought the through ticket barriers were a good idea so that the gates only closed if you had no ticket.

A return journey is on the cards as I think to reach that standard of efficiency will not happen in my lifetime in this country 🙁

I was very impressed by my visit to Japan, particularly by how polite people were, as well as the cleanliness.

Just wait for HS2! Even faster than the Shinkansen trains and built to the Continental loading gauge. Somehow I doubt we shall have white-gloved station assistants and split-second timings though. Another nine to ten years before it arrives unfortunately. I believe HS2 will have pin-point stopping positions marked on the platforms.

In Japan they also have moveable gates on the platform edges to cope with different carriage lengths and door positions. The population has accepted being reduced to automata whereas we shuffle around and muck about as if the train has all day to get away.

Similar experience. Two weeks. Thousands of miles by train. Easy to follow information and easy to find connections (outside of Tokyo area!). One delay of about 20 minutes due to heavy snow in Hokkaido. One cancelled train further south due to wind bringing down power lines somewhere. All other trains were within 30 seconds of booked time. All were spotless clean inside and out, with little to tell 40 year old trains from brand new ones.

Brian Dodd says:
15 May 2017

I think we need special commuter trans with underground style seating to cheaply increase capacity in the busy lines during the rush hours.