The future of rail: Improving the rail passenger experience Contents


Our “future of rail” series of inquiries

1.During this Parliament we are conducting five inter-related inquiries into “the future of rail”. Our Report on proposed new rail technology, particularly updated signalling and rail traffic management systems as part of a “digital railway”, will be published shortly. We are currently considering the extent to which the rail franchising system is achieving its policy objectives. We will shortly go on to go examine the railway’s safety record and, in the longer term, the strategic issues of rail finance and governance.1

The challenging context for the passenger railway

2.The passenger railway faces a huge capacity challenge—the number of passenger journeys has more than doubled over the last two decades, while the size of the physical network has barely increased at all.

Figure 1: Rail passenger journeys in Great Britain, 1950–2015/16

Source: Office of Rail and Road, Passenger Rail Usage: 2015–16 Q4 Statistical Release, May 2016

3.The Government is investing heavily in infrastructure and rolling stock programmes—including a £3.8 billion grant for Network Rail in 2014/15, for example. Train Operating Companies (TOCs), however, face a difficult financial environment. Day-to-day running costs are now broadly met by the TOCs—public subsidies are largely balanced by the franchise premia paid by TOCs to the Government.2 According to industry figures, TOCs’ profit margins have been squeezed.3 The trend under successive governments has been for passengers to contribute an increasing proportion of the rail sector’s income through ticket sales. Passengers now contribute more than 70% of the industry’s entire income.4

Official measures of rail passenger satisfaction

4.According to official measures, the railway appears to be performing relatively well for passengers. The official measure of overall passenger satisfaction remains high—around 80% of rail passengers are either very or fairly satisfied according to the official measure, the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS). Yet this overall average masks some stark variations between London, regional and long-distance routes, across different TOCs, and between business, leisure and commuter passengers.5 In addition, evidence from passengers suggests a high level of scepticism about how these rail passenger satisfaction figures, and other measures of TOC performance, are arrived at. Satisfaction amongst rail commuters is at a five-year joint low, according to the latest edition of the NRPS, but even the worst-performing commuter TOCs received satisfaction scores of around 70% in the last NRPS (see chapter 4).

This inquiry

5.Our intention in this inquiry was to answer some seemingly straightforward questions:

Our aim was to identify and recommend achievable actions that will enhance passengers’ experiences of train travel.

6.We received well over 200 written submissions from the range of rail industry stakeholders, but mostly from individual rail passengers. The large majority of submissions from individuals were from angry and exasperated customers of Southern Railway, which has been unable to provide an acceptable level of service because of a range of planning, management, infrastructure and industrial relations problems. Several Members of Parliament relayed their own, and hundreds of their constituents’, concerns about the performance of Southern.7

7.We heard oral evidence from rail user groups, consumer bodies (London TravelWatch; Transport Focus; and Which?), the independent regulator (the Office of Rail and Road), TOCs (including Govia Thameslink Railway, which delivers the wider Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern rail franchise (TSGN) that includes Southern Railway), the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, Network Rail and the Department for Transport.8

This report

8.The next two chapters of this Report examine the very serious problems being experienced by many Southern passengers on the wider TSGN franchise, and the lessons that need to be learned. We consider our broader terms of reference in chapters 4–6. The current problems on Southern, and some of the wider issues examined in this Report, emphasise key barriers to the railway functioning effectively for passengers within the existing structures of the rail sector. We are picking up these themes in our current inquiry into rail franchising and will continue to address more fundamental questions about the structure of the industry in a forthcoming inquiry into the financing and governance of the railway.

1 More information on our recent and current inquiries is available on our webpages:

2 Office of Rail and Road, GB rail industry financial information 2014–15, March 2016

3 Rail Delivery Group, Britain’s Future: Britain’s Railway, February 2015

4 Office of Rail and Road, GB rail industry financial information 2014–15, March 2016

5 For example, Grahame Mitchell (RPE0041); Iain Kernaghan (RPE0080); Alasdair Lowrey (RPE0089); Michelle Christensen (RPE0101)

6 For full terms of reference, see

7 We are particularly grateful to Maria Caulfield MP; Sam Gyimah MP; Caroline Lucas MP; Tom Tugendhat MP; and Henry Smith MP.

8 A full list of witnesses is set out at the end of this Report.

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

13 October 2016