Working in partnership with London TravelWatch

Transport User Voice – Why the surge in Great Western Railway passenger complaints?

28 March 2017

Thousands of rail passengers who have raised complaints and made compensation claims have had to wait months before getting a response from Great Western Railway (GWR).

Following interventions by Transport Focus, GWR is restoring improved levels of service for passengers.

In spring 2016, First Group, who currently runs the Great Western franchise, awarded a contract to Capita to run its new customer contact centre.  The combination of some major incidents on the network, along with some significant operational and staffing challenges at the centre, resulted in many thousands of GWR passengers having to contact the operator.

Transport Focus has heard from hundreds of frustrated passengers who had to wait for several months for a response. This meant our own appeals caseload was at unprecedented levels.

We tackled the issue directly with GWR, along with the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road. The promised improvements have been slow to appear.  So our Board invited Mark Hopwood, the company’s Managing Director, to its meeting in public to explain why the backlog occurred, and what GWR has been doing to try and resolve it.

The Board appreciated hearing from Mark Hopwood for themselves. He was frank about the lessons that can be drawn. The Board will be monitoring GWR deadlines for meeting both correspondence response targets and clearing the remaining backlog.

In situations where passengers have experienced significant delays in getting a response to their complaint we would expect the train operator to consider offering some additional gesture of goodwill to recognise the added inconvenience caused. The Board were interested to hear more from GWR about how it operated its policy on goodwill gestures in these circumstances where the company’s response was so delayed.

Over the last week we have only received 14 new GWR cases over the course of the week, which is down from an average of 10 cases being received per day previously. So is this a good sign? We – and no doubt GWR passengers – hope so.

Transport Focus has asked for progress updates from GWR at the end of March to reassure that its recovery plan remains on target. But there are broader implications of how a train company moves from one customer service supplier to another and how recovery plans are formulated, managed and communicated. This should be useful for other companies and also when franchises change from one company to another. We will be reporting on these learning points in future editions of Transport User Voice.

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