The Last Word


How do tram and rail passengers compare?

David Sidebottom, director at Transport Focus, analyses the drivers in performance of passenger satisfaction in tram compared to rail.

Results published in our recent Tram Passenger Survey (TPS) have seen remarkable levels of satisfaction by the six operators we covered in Blackpool, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. Passengers gave them an overall satisfaction score of 93%, a trend that has consistently increased over the last four years. 

This time, Edinburgh Trams achieved a survey record with an overall satisfaction score of 99%, while Nottingham Trams is remarkably high and consistent as its satisfaction has ranged between 96-98% since our first TPS in 2013. As satisfaction is reaching new heights, consistently over time and across each surveyed network, rail passengers in Great Britain are still receiving a less consistent service. 

Overall, rail passenger satisfaction was 12 percentage points (pp) lower than tram users at 81% in our autumn 2016 National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS). Passenger experiences also varied considerably, from 62-97%, depending on the route they travelled. So why are tram networks receiving higher overall satisfaction scores compared to rail users? 


Whether tram passengers are commuting, travelling for leisure or business, overall passenger satisfaction is driven by local operators placing their passengers consistently at the centre of the service. On each major measure in our survey – value for money, overall satisfaction with the stop, punctuality and cleanliness of the tram – passengers are offered a service that they value to be frequent, punctual and reliable, and also feel personally safe to travel on. Across nearly all these measures, travelling every day by tram is considered a more positive experience for passengers. Satisfaction was often rated between 10-15pp higher by tram users. 

Delivering a high level of service for commuters is the critical difference between each mode. Rail and tram passengers have a fundamentally different service, widening the overall satisfaction rate by 14pp to 88%. Nearly two-thirds of commuters who used the tram felt it offered better value for money compared to a third travelling by train. Punctuality was also rated higher by passengers travelling by tram, 21pp more than rail at 83%. Commuters also felt trams offered more space to sit and stand and considered their service was timelier. 

The general helpfulness of staff is an important driver of satisfaction for tram commuters. Network-wide overall scores were rated overwhelmingly higher: the Blackpool and Edinburgh tram networks were each rated 95% respectively for this measure. While rail users rated their experience of interacting with staff at a comparatively low 56%, tram operators dealt with passengers considerably better, receiving a score of 81% by commuters. Satisfaction for all types of journeys was 86% for tram passengers, while rail was rated at 64%. 

Whilst recognising there are differences in the complexity of some rail services and networks over their tram counterparts, it is clear that the challenges for both tram and train operators remain the same. Providing a consistent quality of service is crucial to improving levels of passenger satisfaction. These tram networks are clearly delivering the service for their passengers who are in turn reaping the reward.



Jerry Alderson   11/07/2017 at 19:07

Re: How do tram and rail passengers compare? If the question is 'how do tram and rail services compare?' then the one big difference is that Network Rail is not involved in the tram services (at least not until the Sheffield Supertram tram-train service starts). Given that NR is responsible for the majority of the service interruptions and delays this could help explain why tram passengers are much happier than train passengers.

Peter Jarvis   31/08/2017 at 16:49

There are some independent railways and light railways which are outside the national system, which might be used as a comparison from their write-ups on Trip Advisor. One was criticised because passengers cannot go round the railway works .... I had not seen NR or the tramways criticised on that account .

Add your comment



rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

Network Rail’s subsidiary secures systems integrator contract in Australia

14/12/2018Network Rail’s subsidiary secures systems integrator contract in Australia

The Australian subsidiary of Network Rail Consulting has been named as the systems integrator for the Digital Systems Program in Sydney by Transp... more >
Infrastructure giant Amey to be sold to private equity firm in new year

14/12/2018Infrastructure giant Amey to be sold to private equity firm in new year

 Infrastructure giant Amey is expected to be sold to a private equity firm in the new year, according to reports. The Financial Times b... more >
HS2 and Crossrail suppliers admit to running ‘illegal cartel’ for 7 years

14/12/2018HS2 and Crossrail suppliers admit to running ‘illegal cartel’ for 7 years

Two UK rail suppliers to major projects such as HS1, HS2, and Crossrail have admitted to operating an illegal cartel for almost seven years with ... more >
Network Rail fined £200k after elderly signaller suffers ‘life-changing injuries’ in level crossing

13/12/2018Network Rail fined £200k after elderly signaller suffers ‘life-changing injuries’ in level crossing

Network Rail has been fined £200,000 after a 65-year-old man suffered life-changing injuries at a level crossing in Kent over three years a... more >


Passenger safety: Respect the edge

27/11/2018Passenger safety: Respect the edge

Claire Coward, communications lead at the RSSB, discusses her organisation’s latest passenger safety campaign. Incidents at the platfo... more >
Night Tube: The twilight economy

27/11/2018Night Tube: The twilight economy

Dr David Lutton, executive director of economy and tax at London First, argues that the capital’s night-time economy is just starting its j... more >
Monitoring the performance of earthworks

27/11/2018Monitoring the performance of earthworks

Dr Joel Smethurst, associate professor in geotechnical engineering, and Professor William Powrie, professor of geotechnical engineering, both of ... more >
Introducing iPort

20/11/2018Introducing iPort

Steve Freeman, managing director of iPort Rail, introduces the UK’s newest inland freight terminal. The UK’s newest inland rail ... more >

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Ye... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the... more > more last word articles >


HS2 train race: making the case

20/11/2018HS2 train race: making the case

Bombardier and Hitachi’s commitment to providing the best HS2 rolling stock pitch to the government was signified with the launch of their ... more >
Finding positives in negative short-circuiting devices

09/11/2018Finding positives in negative short-circuiting devices

Sponsored interview  Anything that brings about safety and time-saving benefits is a valued improvement for the rail industry, which is w... more >
Taking to the skies

30/10/2018Taking to the skies

Network Rail’s commitment to driving innovation is best encapsulated by its latest scheme involving high-definition imagery drones, or UAVs... more >

rail industry focus

View all News

'the sleepers' daily blog

Spotlight on Coventry Very Light Rail

27/11/2018Spotlight on Coventry Very Light Rail

Olivia Brown, business development officer at Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), an academic department of the University of Warwick, outlines th... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >