Storms and weak performance buffet rail passenger satisfaction

19 June 2018

A perfect storm – passengers have been buffeted by extreme weather and timetable chaos.

Earlier this year rail passengers battled the ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma. Now some are faced with daily misery due to the timetabling meltdown.

When stormy, violent and unusual weather battered parts of the country early this year, we welcomed the efforts the rail industry made to run trains rather than bringing in blanket cancellations. However, passengers were naturally less satisfied with the resulting patchy performance during storms, and later delays caused by damaged trains.

Transport Focus’s latest National Rail Passenger Survey, capturing the satisfaction of more than 25,000 passengers with their last journey, is published today.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said:
“In the middle of widespread disruption on the roads, buses and elsewhere during the recent bad weather parts of the rail industry did well to run trains at all, let alone to a timetable. Inevitably, passenger satisfaction was also buffeted by the weather. However, overall, looking at this 10-week period we saw more general rail performance still under stress. A reliable railway remains the key driver of passenger satisfaction.”

Northern and Network Rail
Northern passengers have had a torrid time since the introduction of the new timetable on 20 May. However, even earlier in the year passengers were suffering too many delays and cancellations, hitting passenger satisfaction. Disruption continues today with Northern passengers hit by the first of three days of strike action this week.

This afternoon independent watchdog Transport Focus will quiz bosses of Northern and TransPennine Express, and a Network Rail director, on the recent poor performance and plans for compensation.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Northern’s performance, following the removal of 165 trains from the timetable, has now stabilised in most places. However, passengers will be wondering when they will get compensation and when the missing trains will be reinstated. Well done to all involved in restoring a rail service on the Lakes line a model for future use on other parts of the network when this type of issue happens?

Thameslink, Great Northern and Network Rail
Prior to the new timetable, passengers had seen performance stabilise and then improve. This, combined with benefits from having new trains and other welcome investment, such as at London Bridge, had seen passenger satisfaction rise. These improvements have now been squandered in the short term with the timetable crisis.

Anthony Smith said: “Thameslink passengers will look back at this period of relatively good performance and ask how the railway managed to shoot itself in the foot. The ongoing chaos is even more infuriating as information provision about the unstable timetable is so poor.”

The Beast from the East and falling punctuality as measured by Public Performance Measurement (PPM) during the period of the NRPS has battered rail passenger satisfaction in the early part of the year.

Scotland was hit by stormy and violent weather early this year. The ability to provide trains at all in some cases, and patchy performance, not surprisingly took a toll on train performance – the key driver of passenger satisfaction. ScotRail and all cross-border operators saw satisfaction with punctuality drop as a result of this and general weak performance.

Anthony Smith said: “Passengers welcome the investment in improving Scotland’s railway but this must be delivered hand in glove with the daily delivery of improved punctuality, the key driver of passenger satisfaction, so that the benefits of the investment are not lost in dissatisfaction with late-running trains.”

Welsh rail passengers have reported improved punctuality since last autumn. However, the upkeep and cleanliness of the trains and the ease of making connections were both less well-rated – something that the new Wales and Borders rail service should help address in time.


Notes to editors:

  • Click here to download the full report or here for a handy infographic of key results.
  • The survey took place between 15 January and 28 March 2018.
  • Passenger journeys on ScotRail services increased to 97.8 million in 2017/18, a rise of 23.5 million in just over a decade. Record investment is taking place in delivering redeveloped stations, upgrades to the railway infrastructure and new and refurbished trains to match demand.
  • A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) was published in April, detailing twenty recommendations which have all been accepted. Key elements of the improvement plan include measures to improve infrastructure and train reliability, better infrastructure performance during autumn, a review of both short- and long-term fleet maintenance activities, and the suspension of skip-stopping, except as a last resort.
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