A chance to exceed expectations

David Sidebottom, passenger director at Transport Focus, highlights the areas that the next East Midlands franchise operator must focus on to improve train services for commuters.

“I’m spending £130 at least on tickets and when I add that up to a month, it’s at least £600. And then I have to pay for wi-fi. I think that’s really rubbish.” – Bedford, frequent commuter.

Wi-fi, plug sockets, and catering services – many of the different onboard facilities that we might not think about when booking a train journey but are increasingly things passengers have come to expect as part of a value-for-money service.

Better onboard facilities is just one of the findings to come out of our new research in to the East Midlands franchise. With the next operator expected to start running the franchise from August 2019, we’ve been speaking to passengers to understand their priorities for the next franchise. We wanted to make sure their views are understood before new services are specified. That’s why we carried out a number of focus groups across the network to understand what passengers’ overall impressions and areas for improvement are. So what’s the verdict?

Passengers think the current East Midlands franchise largely delivers on their basic needs, but one of the biggest concerns is the dated nature of the trains in use. Commuters told us their key areas for improvement include more seats and more frequent services, more modern trains, improved onboard experience and better value-for-money services. So how can the next franchise seize the opportunity to deliver an outstanding experience for passengers?

Overall, 89% of East Midlands Trains (EMT) passengers are satisfied with their journey. Passengers tell us EMT delivers a dependable and reliable service which represents value for money on local journeys compared to the cost of driving or taking the bus. For longer journeys, however, especially to and from London, opinions of the value for money are much more varied, with some people finding good-value fares whilst others find tickets to be eye-wateringly expensive.

Passengers have told us there are issues around the dated feel of trains, their lack of facilities, and the inconsistent quality of stations across the network. The dated appearance of the trains and the design of their interiors leads to people describing the operator’s brand overall as “basic,” even rather “shabby.

”They also had some rather negative views about the cleanliness of train interiors, with satisfaction rates of 74% on local routes. When it came to the toilets, passengers were less than impressed. Only 50% of commuters on local routes were satisfied, and 55% on London trains. They would also like to see free on-board wi-fi, power sockets and improvements to catering services. In the latest National Rail Passenger Survey, just 29% of passengers were satisfied with the availability of wi-fi on trains and 43% were satisfied with the availability of power sockets. This is clearly an area where there is the opportunity for the new franchise to improve services and exceed expectations.

Passengers also notice a stark contrast between EMT and more modern trains run by Virgin Trains and London Midland, which share some stations on the network. The new franchise should look to significantly improve the quality of the trains, bringing them up to 21st-century standards. Introducing trains across the network with an improved level of comfort and better provision of facilities, especially on local routes, would go some way to transforming passengers’ overall impression of the franchise.

Our research shows passengers rate staff on the network highly, finding them friendly and helpful at the station and on the train. Over 80% are satisfied with the helpfulness and attitude of staff on the train. Where passengers have problems, these are generally resolved proactively on the spot, or dealt with successfully by EMT’s customer relations team. It’s vital that the next operator continues to deliver good customer service and puts the passenger at the heart of its day-to-day operation.

What’s clear is that EMT passengers have a dependable service that delivers the basics well. However, they have seen what other TOCs provide, which has raised their expectations. We will now work with the DfT to highlight these and other issues, seeking a franchise that reflects passenger needs and exceeds their expectations. The competition for the next franchise must seize the opportunity to provide an outstanding journey for rail passengers in the East Midlands.

Top Image: Jaroslaw Kilian




Huguenot   24/11/2017 at 14:57

With the exception of the Corby branch, the Midland Main Line should not be considered a commuter railway, and inter-city trains to/from Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield should not be stopping at places such as Wellingborough and Bedford, otherwise we shan't see the improvement in journey times to the East Midlands and South Yorkshire cities that we desperately need, and taking London commuters on inter-city trains just makes it uncomfortable for long-distance passengers. Bedford and Luton commuters should be served by a fast Thameslink service (which GTR is not planning to provide). Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough will have a half-hourly electric service, but that doesn't need inter-city rolling stock, and more than, say, Kings Lynn does. Give them redundant Class 350s from London North Western or even the Class 365s from Great Northern.

Andrew Gwilt   25/11/2017 at 00:09

Was thinking if Class 379's cascaded from Greater Anglia could be used on London St. Pancras-Corby and Kettering. Whilst Class 707's could end up going to Southern to replace the Class 455's on South London suburban services.

Huguenot   25/11/2017 at 11:46

That's a good suggestion, Andrew. The Class 37Xs are a good train. We were sorry to lose them from Thameslink when the very uncomfortable Class 700s came in. Correction to my previous contribution: I meant of course " ... any more than, say, Kins Lynn does".

Andrew Gwilt   25/11/2017 at 23:20


James Miller   27/11/2017 at 09:28

The 379s are only 100 mph trains as are the 700s and 707s. I think that as the Corby route will be over 110 mph in places, according to the eleftrification contrac, at least a 110 mph train will be needed! There have been rumours of a 125 mph bi-mode Aventra, so could we see a unified fleet of Aventras. Note that these woukd do Corby to London in under an hour, which would cut the number of trains neded on the route! Would Bombardier let anybody else serve the route?

Bob   27/11/2017 at 09:54

@Huguenot You're just an idiot mate. You may find this hard to believe but people in Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire do want to travel North as well as to London. You will see this in the consultation responses. The size of the urban areas that Luton, Bedford, Wellingborough and Kettering stations all serve warrant some level of northbound service. While there needs to be at least one hourly fast Sheffield and Nottingham service, the other Sheffield and Nottingham services will have to make some calls in the 'forbidden zone', unless the DfT ditch the 2tph to Corby and use it as a stopper to Leicester and beyond allowing more fast long distance services, but unfortunately that won't happen.

Rail For The South   01/12/2017 at 12:02

Good point Bob (not the idiot bit, but the rest). It is crucial that areas to the north of London have intercity access to cities to the north without having to add to the rail congestion by travelling south into London to catch a northbound service.

Lutz   01/12/2017 at 13:17

Just another exercise in raising expectations that services should be offered for free. They are not free, and they will be paid for somehow - usually in an additional operation cost paid through fares and/or borrowings.

Graham Nalty   01/12/2017 at 19:24

"The new franchise should look to significantly improve the quality of the trains, bringing them up to 21st-century standards". I do not think that diesel bi-mode trains will be much of an improvement. When travelling from Derby to St Albans recently, the Thameslink trains seemed pleasantly quieter with less vibration after the Meridians from Derby to Luton.

Agentsmith   04/12/2017 at 08:03

Graham: Any electric train will seem quieter than a diesel. Meridians are one of the many diesels with underfloor engines - not pleasant to any long distance traveller! Rail For The South: Whilst connectivity is important, does it need to be of *intercity* standard up to Kettering/Corby? Graham Nalty: The standard that any diesel bi-modes will bring simply depends on their specification. Loco-hauled stock will always be more comfortable. But the seat specification these days tends to be simple and basic and is a process much removed from that to decide on the rolling stock itself.

David Faircloth   05/12/2017 at 11:09

Something to remember on the MML is that there are many enhanced speed limits marked for HSTs. Last time I looked at the Sectional Appendix, none of the trains suggested above as being suitable for Corby services are listed as being able to use enhanced speed restrictions marked for HSTs; the 800 series family of trains are also missing. Trains specified for the new MML franchise must, at the very least, be able to match point-to-point timings for Meridians, and also be able to take advantage of the works being undertaken at Derby and Market Harborough in particular; if they can match the "promise" made for journey times following electrification (which, from memory, gave a London - Derby time of about 76 minutes), then all the better.

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