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Seasonal migrations – visiting university by train…

04 August 2014

Every year, around about this time, a strange, seasonal, large-scale shift takes place in the composition of rail passengers. More noticeable on longer-distance trains, but it must affect the whole network.

Thousands of would-be students, often accompanied by a parent, visit potential universities and colleges around the country. They must number tens or even hundreds of thousands. For many this may be first experience of longer distance or even train travel at all. What efforts does the railway make to greet and meet this market and make a favourable impression on the customers of the future? Well, none that I can detect, but they would probably all settle for getting there on time.

My sister’s experiences have been interesting. Tonbridge to Exeter – fine both ways, enjoyable with no problems. Cambridge – fine. Sheffield – oh dear. Late on the way up, but with profuse, detailed apologies with a member of staff coming off another train.

The way back was a disaster. Their booked train was cancelled. So they all had to wait for the next one which was predictably rammed. No seat reservations, so a bunfight. No attempt to help or organise things. My sister and her daughter found a carriage where it turned out the air conditioning was not working – if this has ever happened to you (as it did to me in British Rail days) you will know it is unbearable. There was no mention of compensation. My sister, who got all the patience and stoicism allotted to our family, will not complain.

Did East Midlands Trains (EMT) let them travel in the empty seats in First Class? No, turfed off at Leicester and then had to cram on another train. This made for a very long day. Why, oh why, could EMT not do the right thing? How can you treat paying customers like that? My 17-year-old niece now has a somewhat jaundiced view of the railways and these memories last...

Remember our National Rail Passenger Survey shows that punctuality remains the key driver of satisfaction and how delays are dealt with the key driver of dissatisfaction.

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