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I can’t get no passenger satisfaction

Former campaigner's picture

Passenger watchdog Transport Focus today published the latest round of its survey into National Rail Passenger Satisfaction. This is a bi-annual survey which goes into great detail about overall satisfaction, value for money and conditions of stations and trains.

Overall passenger satisfaction has increased for the first time since 2012 which is very welcome and long overdue but this small rise does not hide the fact that many train operators are still failing passengers all too often.

The areas I picked out from the survey for analysis were the train operators that came at the top and those that came at the bottom for overall satisfaction.

The TOP 4 train operators are:

  • First Hull Trains (97 per cent)
  • Heathrow Express (95 per cent)
  • Grand Central (93 per cent)
  • Merseyrail (93 per cent)

Interestingly not one of these train operators is a traditional franchisee.  First Hull, Heathrow Express and Grand Central are all ‘open access’ operators which are private companies operating commercial services without a franchise agreement which instead buy slots on the certain rail lines from the Office for Rail and Road (ORR). The Merseyrail franchise is known as a ‘concession’ which is devolved and managed by Merseytravel the local transport authority and is always near the top of the ratings.

The BOTTOM 3 train operators are:

  • Thameslink (73 per cent)
  • Southeastern (75 per cent)
  • Southern (78 per cent)

​All of these train operators serve London and have repeatedly scored poorly on satisfaction surveys and they have also been in the news recently after Transport for London (TfL) and the Department for Transport (DFT) announced proposals to take sub-urban parts of these franchises under TfL’s control and expand the London Overground network (which has continued to score consistently highly with 88 per cent satisfaction this time around).  

Something clearly has to change on these poor performing franchises and commuters that use them every day will not accept a continuation of delays, disruption and poor service whilst being asked to pay thousands of pounds a year for the privilege. With reports that improvements might be as far off as 2021 the DFT and TfL must now urgently outline timelines and processes for improvements to be made and communicate them to aggrieved passengers. Light is at the end of the tunnel for London commuters but it is currently quite dim.

The other thing that struck me about the survey was that Virgin Trains East Coast has seen a 5 per cent drop in satisfaction since the last survey. Virgin East Coast has also seen a 4 per cent drop in satisfaction for value for money. This is awkward for the Government who were hell bent on re-privatising the Government owned East Coast franchise despite the state owned operator regularly scoring high passenger satisfaction levels. This plays into the increasingly strong narrative that our railways should be renationalised and if the Government and train operators want to win the hearts and minds of rail passengers there needs to be improvements across the board on affordability, reliability and accessibility. This is currently not happening and instead we have failing franchises in the South East and fragmented franchises elsewhere with open access operators buying up slots willy nilly.

The really interesting survey will be the next one Transport Focus publish in June as the combination of London Bridge meltdowns and poor performing operators could really start to bite 


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