'Raw deal': Trains must be run for passengers - not the rail firms

1 January 2018, 21:46

As the biggest rail fare rises since 2013 kick in, it is time to make complaining and claiming compensation far easier, writes Alex Hayman, head of public markets at Which?

Many of us will travel to work today on an overcrowded, dirty or unreliable train service - and wonder why this ordeal is costing more money than ever.

Rail season tickets are going up by an average of 3.4% but many passengers do not feel they are seeing a return for the extra costs.

Satisfaction with value for money over the last decade has stayed stubbornly low and is unlikely to improve after this latest round of price hikes.

We deserve trains that are run for passengers, not just the rail industry.

When services fail to deliver, passengers need to be able to get the compensation they are owed and have access to a system that handles their complaints properly.

The industry and government must urgently address this imbalance if they are to rebuild passenger trust.

:: New Year rail fare hikes at five-year high

What do passengers say about train services?

Which? heard stories from thousands of angry and frustrated rail passengers in 2017.

There were complaints about dangerous overcrowding, filthy carriages and services that only run on time one day in five.

Others reported that unreliable train services were putting an unbearable strain on their work or home life - and that attempts to complain or claim compensation were ignored.

We even heard from disabled passengers enduring agonising pain standing packed in trains "like sardines" and one man who urinated in his seat because his train lacked a disabled access toilet.

Why are rail passengers getting such a raw deal?

Passengers are shelling out more and more for season tickets, but some are still arriving at their destination late and frustrated.

Many people have no choice about which train operator they travel with - and some may feel they are being unfairly squeezed to boost profits, with no sign of improvements to the services they pay for.

To make matters worse, the rail sector has too often left passengers as an afterthought when making big changes.

Is it possible to run a decent train service in this country?

Our rail survey last year showed some operators proving it is possible to provide a service passengers are happy with.

Merseyrail and Translink were among operators with punctual and reliable services, with carriages in good condition.

However, commuters on some of the most popular routes, such as South Eastern and Southern, have endured nightmarish journeys and levels of service. There is no reason why they shouldn't do much better.

What can be done to fix the rail system for passengers?

If trust in the industry - currently stuck at a woeful 28% - is to be improved, train companies and the Government need to do much more to improve the lot of passengers.

When things go wrong, passengers must be clearly informed about their rights to compensation for delays and cancellations.

Claiming should be made simpler and easier and compensation should be paid out automatically, where possible.

When people want to complain, they need somewhere to turn where they can trust their complaints will be resolved promptly, fairly and impartially.

The Government has announced a new independent ombudsman for rail complaints. And when the scheme is introduced, it's crucial that all train companies sign up so all passengers can get their complaints dealt with.