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‘Broken’ rail complaints system failing to deal with passengers effectively or even with ‘basic courtesy’

The rail complaints system is “broken” and train companies are failing to deal with passenger complaints effectively or even with “basic courtesy,” new analysis has revealed.

An investigation by Which? found that less than half of passengers were satisfied with how their complaints were dealt with by train companies, with some operators doing far worse than others.

Northern, Govia Thameslink and Great Western Railway left only one in five of their passengers satisfied with the outcome and/or handling of their complaint.

The consumer group’s analysis looked at how satisfied passengers who made a complaint were with the process, from the ease of making a complaint to how helpful and communicative the company was when dealing with the issue.

It found that 71% of passengers felt more negative about their train company after the way their complaint was handled, with Virgin Trains East Cost topping the pile, followed by TransPennine Express and Northern.

No more that half of passengers across all the TOCs thought their complaint had even been taken seriously, and Which? said that “poor satisfaction with complaints is unlikely to improve the low levels of trust in rail,” with trust in the rail the lowest of any industry in the UK, behind only car dealers.

The number of passengers who said they felt their complaint had been taken seriously dropped to 21% for Govia Thameslink and 20% for Northern, which is “especially concerning” given that the data is from the period immediately before the May timetable chaos.

The research found that the operator with the lowest rate of satisfaction for politeness was Northern, who ended up in the bottom three of the 18 companies in every aspect of the complaints process passengers were asked about.

One Northern passenger said she was even blocked on Twitter for complaining when her train was cancelled, very delayed or too full to get on.

Chiltern Railway was rated the highest for politeness, and along with CrossCountry, which scored the highest most consistently across the board.

Which? says its findings “cut to the core” of calls for a new rail ombudsman providing an official body to escalate complaints to, which should be coming in 2018 after being announced last year.

Alex Hayman, the Which? managing director of public market, said: “Clearly there are serious underlying problems in the current rail complaints system, which need to be addressed.

“Train companies have to step up and start delivering good customer service when things go wrong – informing passengers about their rights and dealing properly with any complaints that arise.”

He said a new rail ombudsman should “incentivise train companies to listen to passengers in the first place and, when necessary, step in to make sure passengers get the redress they deserve.”

Image credit - VictorHuang

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