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Whilst the industry is moving forward with tech advancements, is it leaving its passengers behind?

Posted by Emily O'Dowd on Jul 23, 2017

Britain's train delays.jpgIn our weekly industry interviews we are always keen to find out how our experts believe rail is likely to change in the next ten years. But many areas of the industry are lagging behind the rest and have seen little improvement. Whilst SmartRail World are keen to promote the ground-breaking technologies happening in our industry it is just as important to provide solutions for the ones that still persist. The UK consumer survey Which? have discovered that train operators in the country handle customer complaints and delays almost as badly as they did a decade ago. An analysis of National Rail found that passengers’ satisfaction with how delays are handled stands at 35 percent which is compared with 32 percent ten years’ ago. As we delve a little closer into the technological advancement versus the passenger experience, we can analyse to what extent operators are prioritising their customers.

“Together, the industry will continue to minimise disruption as major upgrades are carried out but the disruption will be worth it, with the railway better connecting people and making journeys easier.”

Punctuality satisfaction has fallen by percentage points over the same period to 72 percent – a ten year low. Alex Hayman, from Which? said: "Our analysis highlights that the rail industry has been failing its passengers, particularly in the way they handle delays and manage complaints.” This news comes in after the owners of Southern, Govia Thameslink Railway were fined £13.4 million for the amount of delays and strikes passengers had to endure.

"This just isn't good enough for the millions of people who are reliant on rail services on a daily basis… That is why we need to see the powers and duties of the regulator strengthened, with the government swiftly pressing forward on its plans to introduce a rail ombudsman,” said Hayman.

The transport secretary said the £13.4 million was to be spent on "performance and passenger improvements", including £4 million to fund 50 on-board supervisors over the next two years.

"Passengers who depend on Southern have been badly let down," Christoper Grayling the UK Transport Secretary added.

On the other hand, the Rail Delivery Group – the representative body for train operators and Network Rail announced a very different set of results. Since 2009, Britain’s rail network has seen the biggest shift to rail from other modes of transport of any railway in Europe. In fact, their report claims that its passengers are among the most satisfied in the continent.  

RMMS 2016 show: high or good satisfaction scores.Great Britain (78 per cent) was second only to Finland (80 per cent) in terms of passenger satisfaction in rail travel and came top for satisfaction in rail stations (73 per cent) following the most recent cross-European comparison survey. Finland’s railway carries fewer passengers each year than pass through London Victoria station.

Growth in passengers has been accompanied by a strong safety record second only to Ireland in terms of accidents per million train km between 2010 and 2013 (ERA reported by ORR 2015). There were no passenger fatalities in train accidents during 2015-16, the eighth year in succession that no passengers have died as a result of a train accident.

The relative success of Britain’s railway comes despite a challenging backdrop. Its network is the second busiest in Europe, after the Netherlands, in terms of the number of kilometres travelled by trains per kilometre of track (RMMS 2016).

However, there is one aspect that both studies can agree on - punctuality. Britain is investing more than any other railway in Europe in enhancing its railway but that comes at a cost. Redirected routes, closed networks and continued disruption are affecting passenger journeys. Despite this, punctuality on Britain’s railway is comparable with its European neighbours.

On cost, the UK has delivered operating costs below the European average, performing better than France (second highest), Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria. Whereas in Britain, train operators are returning a payment to the Government, in France over 20% of the cost of train operations is supported by the taxpayer (RMMS 2016).

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Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train operators and Network Rail, said:

 “With the number of passengers having doubled in the last 20 years and expected to rise further, rail companies are delivering more than £50billion of investment – the biggest of any railway in Europe. This will provide better trains, stations and more lines, keeping Britain at the forefront of rail travel.

“Together, the industry will continue to minimise disruption as major upgrades are carried out but the disruption will be worth it, with the railway better connecting people and making journeys easier.”

Looking ahead to the next decade, Tim Healy, Marketing & Creative Services Director at Sound Transit said that understanding the last ten years is crucial: "To predict how the industry will evolve over the next ten years I think about what has happened over the last decade. Customers, especially Millennials, have grown to expect transit agencies to keep up with their technology needs, particularly the need to be connected.  So I think the evolution we’ll see over the next decade will be centred more on vehicle and station amenities than on the evolution of the transit system technologies."

Editor’s comment: Which? have definitely highlighted the case that Britain’s railways need to deliver a punctual and reliable service, but on closer analysis it appears that it is still able to deliver the same standards as the rest of the continent. However, the current investment plans and further technological implementation can only improve this in the years to come and deliver an efficient railway to serve the 418.5 million passenger journeys.

For more passenger related stories you might want to read:

Want to change urban transportation demands? You'll have to change human behaviour first.

How selecting the correct technologies is essential to keep the modern rail passenger happy.

Car giant VW make play for the 'urban mobility’ space with launch of MOIA.

Keeping rail passengers connected today and tomorrow.

The numbers behind the changing face of the UK rail industry.

Topics: Passenger

Emily O'Dowd

Written by Emily O'Dowd

On graduating with a degree in English Literature at Royal Holloway University of London, Emily joined the editorial team. When she isn't writing articles for the website or interviewing experts in the industry she enjoys reading, running and sailing.

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