Train operators have room to improve

Customer satisfaction with trains still low, says Richard Lloyd
Eight in ten train passengers think ticket prices are too high. Picture: Robert PerryEight in ten train passengers think ticket prices are too high. Picture: Robert Perry
Eight in ten train passengers think ticket prices are too high. Picture: Robert Perry

On the surface, train passengers in Scotland appear to be faring relatively well compared to the rest of the UK, according to our recent annual train passenger satisfaction survey.

Of the train companies operating in Scotland, Virgin came fourth out of 19 nationwide train companies, with East Coast fifth and ScotRail seventh. However, overall we found worryingly low levels of satisfaction and a customer score of just 59 per cent for East Coast and 56 per cent for ScotRail, showing there is still a lot of room for improvement.

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Our research found that these train companies have work to do to get back on track with their customers. East Coast fared the worst of the three on punctuality, with one in five passengers experiencing a delay; Virgin and ScotRail did better, with one in seven and one in ten passengers complaining of delays.

Overall, eight in ten train passengers think ticket prices are too high. But around half of passengers would be prepared to pay more if the service improves. Half would pay more for a more reliable service or to guarantee a seat.

We also found that when it comes to speaking up about problems, many of those with reason to complain don’t.

The Office of Rail Regulation has found that most passengers weren’t aware of their rights when a train was delayed or cancelled. This suggests better information and complaints handling when things go wrong is an area for improvement.

And we think companies should be doing more to address the issues raised by their customers. It’s especially disappointing to hear customers reporting that some train companies are falling down on the basics of customer service, for example dirty carriages and toilets that don’t work. Around one in ten passengers told us they wanted companies to focus on making trains cleaner – twice as many as wanted better on-board catering or more staff at stations.

We accept that some things such as over-running engineering works and the weather, for example, are beyond the control of train companies. However, season tickets cost thousands of pounds, so it is reasonable that in return people expect to get a decent service including a seat and a serviceable toilet.

We want to help ensure passengers’ voices are heard, so we’re calling on people to share their feedback – good or bad – on our campaigns website We’ll use this to build a dossier of evidence to show train companies how they need to improve.

This is your chance to go on the record with your views. We also want to see passengers’ experiences put right at the heart of the franchise tender process so that companies are required to respond to consumer expectations, and just as importantly can be held to account if they don’t.

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Which? will be looking to see whether train companies have improved and acted on feedback when we run our survey again towards the end of this year.

In the meantime we want to know what you think. And we will make sure the companies hear your views loud and clear.
• Richard Lloyd is executive director of Which?