Rail disruption – industry must do better for passengers
17 January 2024
Over Christmas and New Year the news headlines were full of delays: overhead power cables, a cracked rail, broken down trains and, of course, storms and flooding. All this coming on top of an exhausting series of strikes in 2023.
We know that the two main barriers to people using trains are cost and convenience, often comparing the train with the door-to-door option offered by using the car. People considering using the train for the first time in a while could easily look at the headlines and think ‘no, car is simpler’. Regular passengers who were caught up in the worst of the disruption will have another ‘journey from hell’ story to pass onto friends and family.
Transport Focus research continually reaffirms that what matters most to rail passengers is a punctual, reliable railway delivering what the timetable promises at an acceptable price. How well the industry does this goes a very long way in determining how passengers view the railway and how satisfied they are. Our most recent Rail User Survey shows a sustained drop in overall satisfaction, largely driven by a reduction in satisfaction with punctuality/reliability and increased crowding. Late trains mean unhappy customers.
There are many dedicated and hardworking people in the railway striving to improve services. That must continue. And there must be a relentless focus on improving performance and on providing a more reliable service. But the railway has also got to get better at managing disruption. We don’t underestimate that it’s hard but, as the chief executive of Network Rail said on LinkedIn after the 7 December incident, the railway must do better for both customers, and for station and train staff at the sharp end of disruption. This includes providing accurate and timely information, organising rail replacement services and looking after those passengers who are stranded and don’t know how they will get home.
Transport Focus will continue to play its part in this. We are currently part-way through a project working with the Office of Rail and Road to improve the way the railway deals with ‘stranded trains’. That is, when trains get stuck between stations and can’t move. Essentially, we are looking at whether the industry is following its own guidance. Findings will be available in the spring.
We continue our efforts to make it easier for passengers to claim compensation they are due when delayed. Our research for the Department for Transport showed that more people are claiming ‘delay repay’ – 47 per cent of those eligible now doing so (up from 37 per cent in 2020). Good, but still a lot of passengers losing out. We’d urge anyone delayed over Christmas and the new year period to claim what they’re due. You have 28 days to claim, so get on with it now before it’s too late!