Analysis from the rail industry’s independent watchdog shows Southern is the least trusted train company in the UK, with a passenger score of just 22 per cent in 2018.
In a submission to the Williams Rail Review, Transport Focus has published a report analysing how all train operators score on trust with the travelling public during 2017 and 2018.
Southern scored 17 per cent in 2017 but saw a mild improvement last year. The company was not far behind three others that are trusted by less than a third of passengers – Great Northern (24 per cent), South Western Railway and Thameslink (both on 27 per cent).
Three of the four least trusted companies are operated by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) – Southern, Great Northern and Thameslink – and were some of the worst-affected networks during the chaos that ensued following the introduction of a new timetable in May 2018.
Transport Focus also took the opportunity to examine how passengers rate the rail industry compared to other key sectors. The majority hold the railways in far less positive regard overall than the NHS or major supermarkets, somewhat worse than airlines, but “considerably” better than banks and energy suppliers.
CEO Anthony Smith said the findings show a need for change in how the railways are run. He commented: “There are some wide variations between train operators that keenly reflect the passenger experience. Public trust in the railway is fragile but has never been more important. Building a good relationship with passengers will need to be a central part of any reform programme for the railway.
“Even small delays can damage passenger trust, so punctual services and accurate information are essential. New rules now require ‘right time’ reporting to the minute. This makes operators accountable for even the smallest delay – and will be key to rebuilding public trust and winning future customers.”
The two train companies with the highest trust rating were Grand Central and Heathrow Express, both of which achieved consistent scores of 70 per cent or more across 2017 and 2018.
Among regional or commuter networks, the best performer was Chiltern (66 per cent).
Embattled Northern, which suffered the worst disruption from last year’s new timetable and faced multiple strikes by staff over the role of guards on trains, received a trust score of 36 per cent in 2017 and 48 per cent in 2018.
The news comes after it was revealed rail passengers collectively lost 3.9 million hours to delays in 2018.
Based on its analysis, Transport Focus is calling on all parts of the industry to work together to deliver reliable and punctual services. It is also suggesting a “right time performance” culture must be instituted across the rail network and the use of clear and consistent messages to keep passengers informed, especially when things go wrong.
Commenting on the report, RMT union general secretary Mick Cash said: “For over three years RMT members have been warning that Southern is a basket case franchise, cutting corners on safety and service and not fit to run a railway. These latest shocking figures prove that we have been right all along.
“GTR… are specialists in failure who should have been removed from the tracks by Chris Grayling ages ago, but instead he has chosen to bail them out and prop them up at taxpayer expense regardless of what depths they plumb.”
Read the full Transport Focus report here