Rail passenger trust: new report highlights need for reform

06 June 2019

New analysis from the independent watchdog Transport Focus highlights which train operators scored best and worst for levels of public trust over the past two years and underscores the absolute importance of running a reliable, punctual railway.

In a submission to the Williams Rail Review the passenger watchdog has today published an analysis of how all train operators score on trust with the travelling public during 2017 and 2018.

Publishing the paper today, Anthony Smith chief executive of Transport Focus said,

“There are some wide variations between train operators that keenly reflect the passenger experience. Public trust in the railway is fragile but has never been more important. Building a good relationship with passengers will need to be a central part of any reform programme for the railway.

“Even small delays can damage passenger trust, so punctual services and accurate information are essential. New rules now require ‘right time’ reporting to the minute. This makes operators accountable for even the smallest delay – and will be key to rebuilding public trust and winning future customers.”

The two train companies with highest trust ratings were long distance operator Grand Central and the specialist Heathrow Express – both of whom consistently achieved trust scores of 70 per cent or more.

Among regional or commuter networks the best performer was Chiltern (scoring 66 per cent) and the worst Southern which earned a passenger trust score of just 17 per cent in 2017 rising to 22 per cent in 2018. Three other operators are trusted by less than a third of their passengers: Great Northern (24 per cent), South Western Railway and Thameslink (both on 27 per cent).

This latest exploration of views on trust also examines how passengers rate the rail industry compared to other key sectors. Passengers rated the rail industry a good deal less positively overall than the NHS or supermarkets, somewhat worse than airlines but considerably better than banks and energy suppliers.

Based on this evidence, Transport Focus argues:

  • all parts of the industry must work together to bring an unrelenting focus to delivering reliable and punctual services
  • a right time performance culture needs to be instituted across the rail network. This approach best matches passenger expectations.
  • the language and tone of all communications with travelling passengers must be thoroughly reassessed to ensure clear and consistent explanations are always delivered – especially when things go wrong.



Williams Rail Review: Trust in train operators: an exploration of issues influencing passenger trust in rail is published today by Transport Focus.

The Williams Review is seeking to address the multiple identified weaknesses and failings of the rail sector, including lack of public confidence.

This paper analyses data from four waves (2017 and 2018) of the bi-annual tracker survey of passenger satisfaction – the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) – about public trust. It confirms that building trust in a train company is a careful balance of:

  • doing what is supposed to be done – by getting people where they want to go, safely, at the time they expect to get there
  • showing care for customers – demonstrating a human sense of treating people well and fairly
  • being seen to have ethics and principles – being a ‘good’ company that has a strong moral compass.
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