/ 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?

Chris Rosser says:
15 May 2017

Why is it that governments all too often do not recognise the obvious. The priority of a private rail company is to make money so as to satisfy their shareholders. Consequently, much of any profit, goes to the shareholder and is therefore not re-invested into the company. At present, many of the railways are run by overseas companies. Not much profit therefore in to the UK. Railways have to re-nationalised. Nationalised railways in the past were poorly managed, so hopefully lessons will have been learnt. Make them profitable, yes but then all that profit to be reinvested in improvement, not lining the pockets of shareholders. .

Andrew says:
15 May 2017

The present system is a shambles. We need a unified national service.

Train heaven?
Trains that run on time. That’s actually on time, stopping at all stops and not the industry version of on time, which isn’t on time at all.
Sufficient seats for bums. I regularly stand for 30+ mins and get back strain from trying to reach hand rails where there are simply too many people in the way for me to reach. Or that were too high. I’ve journeyed on tip toes more than ones.
And when you do get to sit down (you lucky thing) how about seats that are large enough for passengers with arms/ shoulders? Seats are so narrow now that they are too small for all but the tiniest of passengers. God help you if you get stuck next to a regular sized man. Or worse, someone who’s a little rotund.
Communication. Simple, audible announcements go a long way. I shouldn’t be checking my phone for updates when I am stood in the station or sat on a train.
Well thought out station. I’m a regular at London Bridge and since the redevelopment there are ridiculous bottlenecks on the platforms. you have to add an extra 5 mins to your journey just top get off the platform.
Can we just have Shinkansen instead? They are great.

Ian Brown says:
15 May 2017

The rail franchises should be taken back into public ownership, as the contracts expire and the new “British Railways” should be set, statutory, high standards of service, and funding, which would apply whoever was in power. Only with a nationalised public transport can we institute an integrated transport system which is fair to everyone and will minimise congestion and pollution.

Oh and reasonably priced. The price should be commensurate with the service provided. The service I receive they should be paying me!

I think the government should start with tying rail franchises to a set of contractually enforceable conditions that ensure a minimum level of service, and then penalising them if they don’t meet them. Non-compliance would quickly hurt profits and be an incentive to improve.
Integrating all operators into one company has advantages but where would the incentive be to keep service levels up? Monopolies are rarely ever in the interest of the customers.

The sooner the railways are re-nationalised the better. Then they could be run for the passengers benefit not just seen as a profit centre where the more people that can be crammed into each carriage the greater the profits.

Please can Which? do something about the service from Southeastern on the Dartford loop line. They and Chris Grayling aim to cut half our trains but no one even knows because it hasn’t been publicised anywhere. They’re going to remove all our services to Waterloo East and Charing Cross. This is how we get across London. It’s disgusting that it hasn’t even made the news and it has to be stopped.

Dr, Colin Hill says:
15 May 2017

Train Heaven ? : Trains on time, clean, seating for all travellers; no more than 90% full; compensation for having to stand as well as delay of more than 20 minutes; far more direct services and, therefore, less waiting on platforms to change; more frequent services on branch lines; even pricing across country; cancel HS2 and put money into local services.

Damian Bell says:
15 May 2017

For part time and flexible workers (less than 5 days per week, not always the same days per week) the opportunity to purchase a set number of identical tickets for a discounted price. Because travel times and days can not be predicted in advance, the ticket will offer no guarantee of a seat and this, as well as the multiple purchase, should be reflected in the discount.

Compensation if the train on which you are booked is cancelled and you are unable to obtain a seat on the train on which you do travel.

At least 10% of seats on every service train unreservable (ie free for turn up and go passengers). If an excursion train takes a path which would have been taken by a service train (which can happen on lines of limited capacity) a set number of seats must be made available for those wishing to make local journeys at standard fares.

Full integration of Tyne and Wear Metro and Glasgow Underground into the Rail Settlement Plan.

The only people who can seriously advocate re-nationalisation are those who cannot be be old enough to remember the hell that was nationalised British Rail. Remember first that EU directive 91-440 mandates the separation of train operators from the ownership and management of the track. Also all should remember that monopoly, all and any monopoly, is the ultimate enemy of quality service. If there is no competition, providers become lazy and cease to care whether their captive customers have a good experience or part way decent value for money. Where privatisation went wrong was that the Civil Servants responsible, after decades of defeat and failure, thought they were running a fire-sale of a wasting asset; whereas those who bought the train operating companies saw a golden business opportunity. The result? The operators grew the businesses like crazy, while the infrastructure, run down after 40 years of neglect as a failing nationalised industry, didn’t get the share of the increased revenue because those organising the sale could not imagine that there would be any increased revenue! Overcrowding and delays were the result because the infrastructure could not cope with the extra traffic.

So what to do? First cries to re-nationalise the railways must be resisted like the plague it would promise! Next, wind up Network Rail and parcel out the maintenance of the infrastructure among the operating companies, so they can invest in the infrastructure which will benefit the experience of the customers, so enhancing their competitive position. Third; scrap HS2 before it burns any more money, and allow those who would rebuild the Great Central Line as a 150 MPH dedicated freight line at no expense to the taxpayer to do just that. Allow the electrification of the Midland Main-line and the Great western Region to go ahead without delay with a small fraction of the money saved by not wasting it on HS2: similarly the elimination of bottlenecks. Finally cease to regard the franchise holders as “cash-cows” and leave the profits in for investment in improved infrastructure and rolling stock, and enhanced customer experience.

Dear John,

You are just SO RIGHT!!! We need re-nationalisation like we need a whole in the head. I used to commute to London on the old nationalised railways. They were filthy, foul smelling carraiges like cattle trucks. They were slow and never on time. They were utterly disgusting! The work force were stroppy, bolshy and completely un-helpful at best. The whole experience was completely despicable. When I have used new privatised services, they are at least clean, even if the staff could do with some training in how to act like responsive, positive and helpful human beings that don’t grunt by way of a reply.

My only complaint about modern train services are the ridiculously high cost of tickets. True you can get them very cheap when you book well ahead, but if something comes up and you need a ticket at short notice, you have to take out a mortgage to pay for the damned thing!

The nationalised rail system in the 1950’s was extensive, clean (even in the days of steam!) , comfortable and cheap. The decline began in the 1960’s with Beeching (about a third of the system was closed) and reductions in Investment. Re-nationalisation could solve many of today’s problems, as it did with the East Coast line for some time before it was privatised again.

Privatisation was supposed to bring lower fares and better services through increased competition. It’s achieved neither.
Throughout the majority of the UK rail (and bus for that matter) services are offered by a single franchise holder. There’s no regulation so there are no checks on the services offered. There’s little incentive to look at services integrated with those of other operators or indeed, in most cases, by the service provider itself. The result is a mish-mash of hopeless train and bus services operated, largely, only for the benefit of the franchise holder. The regulator has proved worse than useless so there’s little prospect for improvement.
Nationalisation’s not the answer. Perhaps a Government which took transport seriously might be a first step?

Margaret Dolan says:
15 May 2017

Re-nationalise….therefore vote Labour at the General Election.

Renationalise the railways and reregulate the buses

Re-nationalisation seems the obvious answer. The danger is that the Government of the day, when times are hard: and they often are, starve the railways of investment, just as they did before and are currently doing with the NHS. It will be essential to keep the politicians at arms length and with guaranteed financial committment. The other danger is that the rail unions can become too powerful. We have seen how they tend to abuse that power and are resistant to change unless a suitable ransom can be extracted, often after ruinous strikes. How do we ensure an enlightened and civilised relationship between management and unions?

Run the system on a not for profit basis . All profits will be invested into the system not certain peoples pockets .

More luggage space particularly on trains serving airports and ferries. Assistance with getting luggage on and off trains. Easier access onto and off trains, i.e. not a wide gap between the train and the platform and sometimes a very steep step is involved. More waste bins and regular cleaning of trains. When I travel from Gatwick Airport to Bedford I always ask the station staff to help me load my luggage onto the train and ask them to ring Bedford to ask for assistance getting them off the train as I am 60 and suffer from high blood pressure which increases dramatically when I am in stressful situations. Bedford station never provides any assistance. At least it is the terminus so there isn’t a particular rush to get off the train but it’s no joke trying to get 2 pieces of luggage each weighing 20 – 23 kg off a train and then squeezing into a very small lift up the the bridge level then walk for a bit and then go into another tiny lift to go down to the exit level. I do not suffer from claustrophobia but there it is a tight squeeze for another passenger without luggage to fit into the lifts which are very old. Some stations only have stairs and/or escalators so there is no way that someone with luggage can get down to the platform and staff are often very reluctant to help. The last time I travelled from Gatwick Airport to Bedford there was engineering work going on near Gatwick and some platforms were closed. I was directed to one platform only to find out after waiting for at least 10 minutes that the platform was closed and that the train was going from another platform. By the time I had got a lift up and another lift down the train had gone. This happened 3 times and I then decided I would stay put until the next train came. Eventually the work was done and all the platforms were reopened. Fortunately I wasn’t in a hurry to get to Bedford but it was frustrating going from one platform to another and back again numerous times and waiting the best part of 2 hours before I managed to board a train to my destination. The platforms were so crowded that people often stepped over the yellow line resulting in safety announcements from the CCTV staff instructing people not to cross the yellow line unless they were boarding a train.

I don’t think renationalisation is the answer. What matters is that the companies involved are contracted to provide a well defined quality of service that meets the needs of passengers. There should be arrangements to deal with contract breaches e.g. financial penalties, and these should be enforced by Government (unlike in the case of Southern.) Too many of the franchises currently in force involve the company being contracted to run an inadequate service (e.g. inadequate frequency, inadequate capacity, no Sunday morning or Bank Holiday services etc. This of course could involve additional costs to the taxpayer.

Suzy Davies says:
15 May 2017

A nationalised railway system will serve the taxpayer in a way which is fair to the consumer. As things stand, the railways are inefficient, under invested in, and a rip-off.

The only answer is to bring the rail ways back into public ownership. All of europes railways are now far better and cheaper than ours and of course they are publicly owned . Why is it ok to have foreign state owned railways here milking us for every penny that they can get and also milking us as tax payers and using what they grab from us to keep the train fares down in there own countries. We must bring our railways back into public ownership. I am old enough to recall when our railways were in public ownership and things were not always as good as they should have been ,However there was nothing that could not have been resolved by better management .

As frequent user of Rail Services (inc. Southern Rail) in UK, plus frequent user of rail services in Vienna, Austria, I can vouch for the above comment. From my own use, I can tell you that trains running late there is an very rare occurrence. They are on time 99.9% of the time, whilst cancellations are virtually unknown. Compare that with Southern Trains, even before the current industrial dispute developed! Weekend Disruption due to Engineering/maintenance is also comparatively rare, and only occurs within clearly marked, amply advertised times in limited, clearly stated places. Compare that to the routine weekend disruption of all UK Rail services due to Engineering, which are often not clearly or widely advertised. As a frequent user, I can say that London Overground performs rather better than Southern, but it too is blighted by regular, insufficiently explained ‘weekend engineering’ affecting certain tracts of its Network in a virtually routine way. On average, I would ‘guestimate’ that the line between Sydenham and Shoreditch is closed approximately one weekend in three, regular as clockwork! This smells odd…They don’t say what it is which is causing this regular closure and maintenance, and one suspects therefore, that it is in fact a covert way to save money on fuel and staff costs, and keep greedy shareholders ‘quids-in’