Trains are poor value commuters believe

A train information screen at Milton Keynes station, showing a cancelled railway service being for animals on the line.
A train information screen at Milton Keynes station, showing a cancelled railway service being for animals on the line.
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Two Yorkshire train operators have been ranked among the nation’s worst performers in an official survey which found that only one in three commuters believed the industry delivered value for money.

The continuing weak performance of services was chiefly to blame for the poor showing, the watchdog Transport Focus said. It added that just three in 10 travellers were satisfied with the way train companies dealt with delays.

Its annual report, the biggest survey of the railway industry, was compiled even before the 3.4 per cent average rise in fares earlier this month dealt travellers a further blow.

It found that services on Northern Rail and TransPennine Express were in most cases no better or worse than last year, with punctuality, cleanliness and helpfulness of staff on TransPennine services singled out for particular criticism.

But three other regional operators, including the soon-to-be-replaced Virgin East Coast, were praised.

The consumer group Which? said the figures came as “no surprise”.

Alex Hayman, the organisation’s managing director of public markets, said “Our research has shown that 7m journeys were significantly delayed last year and satisfaction with delay handling has been persistently low for over a decade. Passengers are also finding it too difficult to claim compensation when things go wrong.”

The worst performing companies were the strike-hit Southern and South Western Railways, with Northern and TransPennine Express ranked jointly eighth from bottom.

Satisfaction over punctuality on Northern was said to have fallen by six per cent since last Spring, and overall satisfaction by four per cent. Satisfaction with TransPennine trains was eight per cent down on last Spring, and six per cent fewer people were content with the attitude of the company’s staff.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “For passengers it’s all about performance. These value-for-money scores reflect patchy reliability.”

He said TransPennine Express had been “buffeted by poorer performance”, and added: “Train companies and Network Rail need to keep to their basic promises and deliver a relentless focus on day-to-day performance and better information during disruption.”

Grand Central, which runs trains from Yorkshire and the North East to London, was the best performing operator, with a satisfaction rating of 96 per cent, followed by Hull Trains, one point behind.

Virgin East Coast, which in November was allowed by the Government to withdraw from its £3.3bn franchise three years early, was the third best performer.

Jacqueline Starr, managing director of “customer experience” at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train companies and Network Rail, said: “Four out of five journeys were rated satisfactory or good by our customers but we know there is much more to do, which is why rail companies are working together with a long term plan to change and improve.”

Britain’s trains are the oldest since current records began, despite record fare increases in recent years. Passengers are typically travelling in carriages built in the mid-1990s, according to Office of Rail and Road statistics. Earlier this week, the industry announced that a further 1,300 new carriages would be delivered “by the early 2020s”, bringing the total to just over 7,000.

David Sidebottom, passenger director, at Transport Focus, said: “81 per cent of TransPennine Express and Northern passengers are satisfied with their journey. Passengers using these services want better performance in punctuality and reliability, and improvements to the quality of the train.

“TransPennine passengers tell us they are concerned about overcrowding on its services, with only 58 per cent satisfied with the level of crowding – the lowest in our survey.

“The promised investment in new and refurbished trains by both operators should help improve future passenger satisfaction.”