Transport User Voice December 2023 – A fragile railway

29 November 2023

More reliable rail service needed

Transport Focus is challenging train operating companies and the rail industry to deliver on passenger expectations and make the railway more resilient and reliable.

According to the Office of Rail and Road passenger rail performance in the latest quarter (April to June 2023) was worse than the same quarter one year ago for punctuality and reliability. Since then strikes, storms and further disruption show just how fragile and unreliable services can be at times. The rolling set of strikes by ASLEF for early December is due to affect many passengers in the build up to the festive season. Even on days when there are no strikes, the railway as a whole is feeling fragile – with extreme weather increasing disruption.

We are also aware passengers have recently experienced significant disruption due to signalling problems, short-formed trains and overhead electric wire issues across the rail network. And from 9 December until the end of the year Avanti West Coast is having to significantly scale back its timetable on Saturdays because of staff shortages.

Rail passengers want a reliable service – where it’s unusual for a train to be late or the railway to be closed. Passengers rely on the railway to get to work, for business and for leisure purposes and when it goes wrong it can be very frustrating.

So, what is Transport Focus doing to help improve the passenger experience?

  • We are speaking to Network Rail about the seemingly fragile nature of its networks and operations. Why are signalling systems so susceptible to developing faults? What can be done about it?
  • We’ve written to train operators recently about overcrowding because trains are running with fewer carriages and the lack of provision of alternative routes or adequate bus replacements during engineering works.
  • We are asking for better data to be in the public domain to help understand if the performance trend is going in the right direction or not.
  • We are making sure that the rail industry clearly communicates what will and won’t be running during the ASLEF strikes in December.
  • We are using the significant response from the ticket office consultation to identify passengers’ aspirations and barriers to travel. As part of this we’re talking to train companies to make sure this valuable insight is used by the rail industry.
  • Putting together plans for a major piece of work to help the rail industry improve the way it manages service disruption.

While a ‘boringly reliable’ railway may feel far from the current reality, increased focus on passenger experience and minimising inconvenience when something does go wrong will help. The railway needs to show that it cares and that it is on passengers’ side when something goes awry.


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