/ 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?

M Machover says:
15 May 2017

Obvious solution: renationalise and unify.

Nationalisation is just another word for Free Profit Making, Millions would be required to re install one rail workshop. Where are you going to get the staff from, the staff currently employed by Rail Track, Engineering Staff and ever striking Rail Train Drivers are part and parcel of the current failures and Ticket Office Staff you can go on forever. Labour would have to borrow millions to start this and their many other stupid ideas.

There was never “one rail workshop”.
The problem is entirely at the feet of the management – if they ran the system properly, the staff wouldn’t have to strike.

Ronald says:
15 May 2017

No cost at all in installing any networks – under labour’s proposals they would be nationalised as each private company lease comes to an end. Eminently sensible idea.
Sharing – what a great concept.

Ronald says:
15 May 2017

“Free profit making”? All profits are reinvested into the industry or returned to the tax payer. What’s not to like?

It’s so obvious innit. The Government has to buy back all the rolling stock at market value that has been sold to private investors (ROSCOs) at knockdown prices. It has to compensate the franchisees in some way by reversing the contracts that have been set in place. It has to put together the fragmentation of the network that has probably deliberately been arranged over the course of many years. So go on then let’s have a blueprint for how the “obvious” can be done without spending ridiculous amounts of public money.

The rail network currently costs the taxpayer six times the subsidy that it did when it was publicly run, and fares have gone up 400%. It’s a system designed to funnel public money into private hands.

When it is re-nationalised, the cost to the public will go down. That’s obvious to anyone. who can do basic arithmetic. Standards will improve, like they did when the East Coast Mainline was publicly run and rapidly became the best performing franchise in the country. It also returned millions in profit to the taxpayer. When it was sold, standards immediately dropped.

As for where the staff would come from, franchisees are hardly going to continue to employ drivers and guards after they’ve lost their franchises, so those people would simply continue to run the service as employees of the State.

Sorry to have to break it to you, Rod, but you’re way off the pace here, mate. Nationalisation will reduce costs, reduce the public subsidy and improve the service. The only losers will be the fat cat billionaires that run the service today, taking public money and fleecing the public while they provide a crap service.

So I take it you’re happy with the Tories “sensible” ideas? Like cutting income tax for the rich, robbing the poor & proposing bringing back fox hunting. What sort of party has fox hunting (a “sport” for the toffs) in their manifesto, when there are far more important issues, like the NHS. I say invest in the NHS & re-nationalise all the companies the Tories sold off under Thatcher, & let’s hope June is the end of May!

clare kneebone says:
16 May 2017

The Scandinavian countries are respected and admired around the globe for their societies and success. Guess what..they are based on social democracy. Labour is intending to buy out the franchises as and when they come up for renewal. This means they will not have to buy out the shareholders and the cost of retrieving them is spread over time. The ideas that Labour generate are all from the members (650k at the moment). You are therefore accusing all those members of stupidity, I myself have contributed ideas to Labour policy. It is true democracy in action, enabled easily via internet communication which offers new pathways for solutions that were not available in the past. The alternative party (Conservative) rely on a few MPs who are owned by corporate donors to write policy that both placates the public and satisfies their donors.

That’s right, Clare – Taking over the franchises when they expire is the only financially practical way of returning the remainder of the railway system to full state control – but it will still take decades because some of the franchises are very long. There is, though, the question of the rolling stock, which is not owned by the train operating companies but by the rolling stock leasing companies [ROSCO’s]. A government determined to proceed with full nationalisation would either have to buy the locomotives and carriages back from the ROSCO’s [with compensation included in the deal for loss of future profits], or continue to lease them on potentially unfavourable terms. Neither of these options is impossible but they could be very expensive. There could also be a serious loss of knowledge and expertise if the highly-qualified engineering professionals in the ROSCO’s decide they don’t want to work for the government. My main worry with renationalisation would be the risk to the capital expenditure programmes for electrification, station improvements and renewals, and signalling modernisation and implementation of the digital railway. As we have seen with the roads programme and other major infrastructure projects, the government rarely spends within budget or delivers on time unless it creates new organisations to do it for them or hands it over to the private sector.

The nationalisation policies can’t be troubling investors because I haven’t noticed the stock market nose-diving in their wake; not a flutter so far.

This is way off track,Clare,but are you the same CK who was on the PGCE at Bristol University in 1969-70?
If so,snap!
Went to Bristol by train recently,including a one hour delay at Stafford,with no information forthcoming for c. 20 minutes!

Jonathan Parsons says:
15 May 2017

My biggest concern is that the current privatisation doesn’t allow for any choice by the rail user, meaning there are no incentives for companies to improve their services. If one wants to fly to almost any destination, there are numerous airlines from which to choose, and each one relies on maintaining a decent service or risks going out of business. We’re stuck with whatever rail company runs services on the line. We either need a similar form of competition on the same lines, or we need to nationalise the services.

Abayomi Abiodun says:
15 May 2017


lyn gibson says:
15 May 2017

Re-nationalisation of the rail network is the only solution that makes sense to me.

Privatisation has obviously failed across the UK. The service needs to be coordinated and therefore centralised.
I would prefer a non-profit solution responsible to governement, thereby surplus can be reinvested

Judith Sawyer says:
15 May 2017

Renationalise, East Coast Line was much better before they privatised it again. Privatisation is just Tory dogma and does not work!

Mike says:
15 May 2017

Renationalise: see the success of the east coast mainline publicly owned franchise.

The organisation that took over was ran as a private company and even the ex head of it said it is better in private hands. Bear in mind that they were running a going concern so there were no decisions to be made on large capital expenditure projects, investment or raising capital funds.

David says:
15 May 2017

I can tell you SteveClarke that since Virgin/Stagecoach took over the east coast main line it has got worse, compared to when it was run by “nationalised east coast” previously. As for investment, don’t make me laugh; the new Azuma trains are being ordered and paid for by the DfT, i.e. the taxpayer! All Virgin/Stagecoacgh are interested in is milking it for all its worth, hence the cutbacks in on-board staff just to name one thing!

There is no competition. We only have GWR operating through Stroud, one company with a monopoly and operates with monopoly pricing !

Seats are uncomfortable and some stations have platforms that are too short ?

“They” want us to use the rail service to save fuel & pollution, but the cost of travelling by train are ridiculous, and the pricing system prevents any but the most well-planned trips being prohibitively expensive.

I often need to take my family to London on relatively short notice for medical reasons – for the price of a family ticket for one trip bought two weeks in advance, I can make the same journey by car four or five times, at much more convenient times, without worrying about carrying our luggage from street to train, from train to train and then from train to street, onto buses… you get the idea.

Throw out the current ticketing system, replace it with a much more sensible, simple, national system for a nationalised network.

Fern Bast says:
15 May 2017

I would wish to go to my local station and get a train in either direction. Only our east bound platform is accessible. I would like to know that some one was there to help me board the train and not as is the case now with a carer having to carry ramps. I would like to travel solo. I would wish for the fare to be affordable and simple to purchase. It has been four years since my last attempt at rail travel, exhausting, uncomfortable, unreliable and expensive.

unfortunatly I cannot relate to the problems of train journeys even though the station is only 3 miles away , I live in a rural area of West Lancashire and we do not have a bus to take us to town , I have a national bus pass which is unused. If I could get to the train station I would have to pay £5.50 to Liverpool but the Pensioners from Liverpool can come to Ormskirk Free , can you explain the justice or the fairness with the situation ,
I paid my tax and other deductions through out my working life and like many thousand of other pensioners and we are not treated fairly , for me to travel by train from ormskirk to liverpool would cost me another £10 in taxi fares , So if you ask me do I live in a fair and just society the answer is no

David says:
15 May 2017

(1) If the case for cheaper fares and a good service can be modelled by nationalisation, I’d approve f that, but the way to do it would be gradually, by not renewing franchises as they expired, rather than by paying current rail companies compensations. When the main East Coast rail service was in public ownership a few years ago, that worked in my personal experience so it was a huge shame when the franchise was sold to Virgin. (2) I’d like to see more late night trains, we used to have them, and (3) more seating so people never have to stand. (4) I’m in favour of every train having employees such as guards and/or customer service personnel on board, and will not feel safe if the only employee is the driver. (5) For long journeys I’d like to see cheaper fares more easy to get hold of. I have found sometimes on a long leisure journey I can lower the fare by booking on line and switching trains because there are sometimes legs of journeys that have surplus tickets and the rail operator offers a better price but station staff seem unable to cope with such a request. It might lengthen my journey time by waiting on a station part-way on my journey, but I can sometimes plan for that.

i thought drinking alcohol on trains was a no no recently had to go to liverpool from north wales for a spinal assesment arrived at station on time to find train cancelled had to wait for next one got on that with son who is blind only to sit next to a man who was drunk and still drinking from a lemonade bottle and he ponged son was upset and we were glad to get off at chester its bad enough when you cant get a seat but this is not on

When I lived in Belgium, it was one of the countries who did not make the railways system
private… the NMBS/SNCF is government owned and has the cheapest rail fares in Europa,
also tops on service !… Should that not be saying something ?… Privatization obviously
does not work for public utilities !

But what is the level of state subsidy?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

But you overlook that train operators pay billions of pounds to the government in franchise premiums. Some train services are socially necessary and entirely unprofitable so are subsidised, but most are money-making and make hefty payments to the DfT. Under the newer franchises this is being tightened further. Train operating companies also have other revenues that contribute to their profits. Most of the state support for the railways goes to Network Rail for maintenance and improvement of the infrastructure and to freight operators to promote rail over roads for the movement of goods.

Great North Eastern Railway [London to Scotland east coast line] handed back its franchise because it could not afford the premiums. It was then operated by the government-owned Directly Operated Railways while the route was being refranchised. DOR ran the services to the GNER standards and with all the same staff below board level but they didn’t have to make premium payments, although in their short tenure did make a surplus overall largely due to an upturn in the economy. Virgin Trains East Coast then took over and is not yet making a profit because of the large premiums required to be paid. According to several comments here, the service standards are now inferior. VTEC is a joint venture between Stagecoach [90%] and Virgin [10%].

In relation to the size and turnover of the railways, a £200 million pound dividend spread across many companies is marginal. and too close to the edge for commercial sustainability.

Sherry Russell says:
15 May 2017

Renationalise as each franchise comes up. Stop having to pay profits to shareholders Remove Southern/Govia franchise/ government arrangement and renationalise immediately.
Open new line from London to Brighton via Uckfield and Lewes.
Keep trains safe with guards on, thus allowing disabled access for alighting and disembarking at all stations.
Keep ticket offices open/as well as machines.
Unified national system for booking.
Affordable ticket prices.
Buffet service on long journeys. Toilets on all trains.
Free wifi on all ‘inter-city’ trains.
Room for luggage – particularly on trains that go via airports and ports.
Windows that open or a/c and heating.
Regular stock upgrading.
Research and investment into the train service for the future.
A new government that will be more responsive to the needs of commuters and of train users. ( Conservatives and Grayling have failed us miserably on the South Coast!)

That is certainly the prescription from heaven, Sherry. If only we could try out a beta version to see if it would deliver what we wish for.

Karen says:
16 May 2017

Get real! It’s not about a personalised service to you. If that’s what you want get a car.

My train heaven would be:
– Reinstate branch lines so rural and small-town communities are once again connected to the rail network. Obviously, this would be a very long-term plan and would take many years to bring into being.
– Prices should be slashed from their present levels, which are absolutely extortionate. Ticket prices should reflect just the actual cost of the journey (including overheads such as maintenance etc.).
– Supply should meet demand. I recall one time on a ScotRail commuter service when a train was “fifteen minutes late” (for which read “cancelled”, because it was the four-times-an-hour service between Edinburgh and Glasgow) that was so packed that, at its last stop before Glasgow, people were hurling themselves at crowd of passengers in the doorway to try to get on the train, because there simply was no room. Train services should be frequent enough and large enough to serve the needs of passengers.
– Staff should stop treating passengers like cattle.
– Ticket pricing to be simplified. Scrap all the special deals and make all tickets cheaper.
– I believe that this can be achieved only through renationalising the railways.

The only way that ticket prices will come down is for subsidies to increase. The subsidies are of course financed through general taxation.

David O'Brien says:
15 May 2017

A lot of people take on board news reports as true. Railtrack (privatised) went in 2002 in rather inglorious circumstances and was replaced by the state owned Network Rail. The system is therefore partially nationalised. Was it accidental that shots of 1980s trains were accompanying news item on rail nationalisation? In truth privatisation didn’t see a return to the big four so it would have been silly to use those days to portray the days of First, Arriva , DBSchenken etc.
Brexit doesn’t creep into the nationalisation debate but it should. Many of the train operating companies have EC shareholders and some are owned partially by EC state railways. This ambivalence of asserting national identity with some things and using national as a perjorative term with the railways has the whiff of rodents. The present TOCs are befuddled with PR speak, ever changing corporate identities and promises of never realised jam tomorrow. If it worked we would shut up but it doesn’t . A post Brexit UK needs to regain control of all of our utilities and infrastructure to make us strong and stable ( I stole that one from somewhere) and ready to take on opportunities and challenges facing us.

We are all quite rightly very unhappy about Southern, but lets not forget that the government did the deal which meant that they got paid regardless, AND encouraged them to get tough with the train drivers.

Marie Jo Hughes says:
15 May 2017

Well maintained trains with far fewer first class carriages.

Derek says:
15 May 2017

Re-nationalisation is no panacea. It would put rail services & in particular capital investment back in the hands of Ministers & Whitehall. In times of public expenditure squeezes, capital investment is easier to cut than running costs like wages etc. Neither politicians who have different priorities nor civil servants with little or no business experience, are good at running businesses. Our rail network lacked
adequate investment for years especially during the Thatcher regime because she favored car ownership. Now the railways are running at high capacity but management appears to be inadequate & the unions are apparently playing politics over the driver only question (already accepted on many rail services) presumably in an effort to accelerate demands for re-nationalisation. Would it not be better to tie franchisees to bonuses related to performance targets based on user satisfaction surveys. Do people really want the return of the elderly British Rail sandwich, the quality of which was often said to be on a par with that of the rail service itself. ?