EIGHTY ONE per cent of passengers across the country are satisfied with their rail experience, but punctuality and reliability continue to cause concern on some routes, reveals the latest Passenger Focus National Passenger Survey.
Following problems on the West Coast main line, satisfaction with punctuality and reliability has fallen by six points to 79 per cent on Virgin Trains and eight points to 70 per cent on London Midland.
The survey results - which show a one per cent increase in satisfaction on last year’s figure - have been published just days after Network Rail announced that it is pumping £50 million more into the West Coast route with a number of initiatives aimed at improving performance.
At the same time Passenger Focus – the independent organisation set up by the government to protect the interests of passengers - calls on Network Rail and the train operators to focus on the problematic route to restore passenger faith.
More than 26,000 passengers were questioned between the end of January and 9 April for the first survey of 2009.
Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Passengers across the country continue to be broadly satisfied with their train services.
“Despite the credit crunch, which has led to train companies cutting staff, reducing cleaning and other services in some locations, passenger satisfaction has held up since last spring.
“This must be partly due to continued overall improvement of trains arriving on time - the key factor that underpins satisfaction.”
For the first time, the NPS also sets out passenger satisfaction with stations managed by Network Rail, of which St Pancras International is the new passenger favourite, pushing Manchester Piccadilly into second place.
Also revealed by the NPS is that north of the Border, 89 per cent of First ScotRail passengers are satisfied with their overall journey, as were 87 per cent with National Express East Coast and First TransPennine Express, 86 per cent with Virgin Trains, and 85 per cent with CrossCountry.
While passengers in Scotland reported improvement in helpfulness of on-train staff by eight points to 79 per cent, satisfaction with station facilities and services up 10 points to 58 per cent and overall station environment up seven points to 79 per cent, they felt there was still room for improvement in dealing with delay, on-train toilets and car parking facilities.
There was also good news in Wales, where passengers believe they are getting a better deal on the railway. On Arriva Trains Wales, 87 per cent said they were satisfied with their overall journey and are increasingly happy with value for money, up from 53 to 60 per cent.
Also, passengers in Wales noted improvements in stations, up eight points, but at 39 per cent of people satisfied with station facilities and services, the overall level lags behind the 50 per cent for Britain as a whole.
Satisfaction with C2c (91 per cent), First Great Western (81 per cent), First TransPennine Express (87 per cent) and London Overground (75 per cent) shows that these operations have all upped their game.
Passengers say they have noticed significant improvements to overall service levels. Heathrow Express (92 per cent), Merseyrail (91 per cent), Chiltern Railways (90 per cent) and Heathrow Connect (90 per cent), along with c2c, continue to be strong performers.
Virgin Trains today welcomed news that more and more customers are satisfied with their journeys, but admitted: “Our performance is not good enough yet”.
Latest figures from the National Passenger Survey for Spring 2009 show that Virgin Trains has increased to 86 per cent the overall satisfaction score from its customers, from 85 per cent in 2008.
In 16 out of 18 ‘train factors’ categories, customers marked Virgin Trains above the average for long distance operators. Virgin Trains saw a huge rise in satisfaction on the amount of room on-board and scheduled journey times, following the introduction of a new timetable this year with 30 per cent more trains.
But on punctuality, Virgin Trains fell behind the national average, as customers voiced frustration at delays caused by infrastructure problems on the West Coast main line. Just 79 per cent of customers were satisfied, compared to 85per cent in Spring 2008.
Tony Collins, Virgin Trains chief executive, said: “We are very pleased that so many customers have voiced greater satisfaction over many areas of our business, such as value for money, room on board and the amount of luggage space, and quality of toilet facilities. And the overall satisfaction score is a great tribute to our staff.
“But punctuality is fundamental, and we have not delivered that in recent months because of the continuing track problems.
“We have made clear to Network Rail that this needs to improve and we are pleased that the Office of Rail Regulation last week published a plan of work for Network Rail to improve the quality of infrastructure.
“Only when those improvements are in place will we at Virgin Trains share the growing satisfaction of our customers.”
Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), said:
“The latest survey confirms that passenger satisfaction remains at a high level, reflecting the focus on delivering a quality service to customers by train operators and their staff.
“For instance the Passenger Focus research rightly highlights the improvements to passenger satisfaction achieved by c2c (91%), First Great Western (81%) and TransPennine Express (87%).
“Train companies, however are not complacent and they continue to work hard to deliver a better service and we are committed to working with our industry partners to deliver further improvements.”