RAIL companies must better explain why trains are suspended during extreme weather to counter passenger cynicism they are just trying to avoid penalties for poor performance.
The call from the Transport Focus watchdog for greater transparency follows a series of Scottish lines being shut down by storm warnings.
Passengers need to be able to trust their train companyAnthony Smith, Transport Focus
It urged train operators and Network Rail to provide timely and accurate information about disruption, and also help passengers understand why trains have been cancelled.
The watchdog also recommended further work to make the rail network more weatherproof, including finding ways of checking lines for damage that did not rely on manual inspections at first light.
The report, Reacting to extreme weather on the railways, found passengers expected the railways to operate in snow, heavy rain and high winds, especially as more people were likely to switch from the roads then.
It also showed a “strong negative reaction” to trains starting later and ending earlier than normal. The watchdog said: “Some passengers in Scotland feel rail companies are now too cautious, and suspend services too quickly in the face of extreme weather – which, in the absence of effective communication of the reasons why, has led to cynicism.”
Chief executive Anthony Smith said: “For the passenger stuck on an icy platform, wondering whether their train will turn up, this research shows the importance of excellent information to help passengers make informed decisions.
“Passengers need to be able to trust their train company and believe that it is on their side.”
The ScotRail Alliance, which includes track owner Network Rail, said suspending services was not an overreaction. A spokesman said: “A line will be shut if gusts are predicted to last hours or if wind speeds are expected to get up to extreme levels such as the 80-100mph we saw in late 2014 and early 2015.
“This is done so we can be sure we are not sending trains into a potentially dangerous environment – a tree, or other debris, can easily pierce the window or coachwork of a train – and we should not expose our customers or staff to that potential danger. Large trees and landslips also have the potential to derail a train.
“We try to limit disruption, deploying hundreds of staff to monitor routes and repair damage, using our snow ploughs and engineering trains to check and reopen lines and using our helicopter to quickly inspect large sections of the network after storms have receded.
“We are committed to ensuring that customers are kept informed.”