'Hollow victory' for train companies as passenger satisfaction slightly up

28 January 2020, 11:34

Transport Focus  says the small improvement is "nothing to celebrate", while the industry body - the Rail Delivery Group - puts the rise down to investment in the network.
Transport Focus says the small improvement is "nothing to celebrate", while the industry body - the Rail Delivery Group - puts the rise down to investment in the network. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Train companies have "nothing to celebrate" as passenger satisfaction was boosted from the lowest level in 10 years, a transport user watchdog said.

The proportion of passengers satisfied with rail journeys has increased by three percentage points year-on-year to 82%, according to the latest National Rail Passenger Survey.

Watchdog Transport Focus, which carried out the poll of nearly 28,000 passengers, described the increase as a "hollow victory for train companies" as the "small improvement on the worst score in 10 years is nothing to celebrate".

The organisation's chief executive Anthony Smith said: "Passengers tell us that their biggest priority is rail services they can rely on to actually get them to work or home on time.

"Until train companies and Network Rail can consistently deliver on their promises across the country satisfaction will continue to vary."

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: "While we are working hard to address challenges on some routes where train punctuality should be better, today's improved satisfaction scores show that passengers are feeling the benefits of investment in thousands of new carriages and extra services.

"Punctuality is stabilising on many routes and passengers will continue to see their journeys improve as we replace half the train fleet old for new by 2025.

"We know people want better value for money and have put forward bold proposals to Government for a new fares system which will help to deliver this.

"We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the Williams Review and working with the Government to create a railway that is more responsive to what passengers want in all areas of the country."

Nearly 28,000 passengers were questioned for the latest National Rail Passenger Survey.

Poor punctuality, timetable chaos and industrial action saw the satisfaction score sink to 79% in autumn 2018, which was the lowest level since 2008.

The increase in the latest survey comes as passengers in some areas, particularly in London and the South East, have benefited from more stable performance and new trains.

The operators with the highest satisfaction scores were Heathrow Express (96%), Grand Central (94%), Hull Trains (92%), Merseyrail (91%) and Chiltern Railways (90%).

Only the latter is operated with a franchise awarded by the Department for Transport.

The top three are open access operators, while the contract to run Merseyrail is awarded by Merseytravel, the transport executive body for the Liverpool City Region.

The worst performers were Northern (72%), West Midlands Trains (73%), South Western Railway (74%), TransPennine Express (79%), and Transport for Wales (79%).

Satisfaction scores for separate parts of the rail travel experience include value for money of fares (up one percentage point to 47%), reliability/punctuality (up three percentage points to 74%) and level of crowding (up two percentage points to 71%).