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Only a third of passengers are satisfied with TOCs’ handling of delays

Only 34% of passengers are satisfied with the way their train operator handles delays and cancellations, a survey has indicated.

Research from Passenger Focus, commissioned by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), found that most rail customers received better information from Twitter than from station staff.

The passenger watchdog carried out the survey of 1,020 passengers who had a delay in the previous seven days. Only 43% of those delayed were given a reason for the delay, with poor weather or signalling problems being the most common explanation.

One passenger who took part in the survey said: “Their contact on Twitter is much more up-to-date than their station staff most of the time. Why aren’t the staff using Twitter?”

Another said: “Just the facts – the live departure information is often just a joke.”

Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus’s chief executive, said: “Despite improvements, it is clear that many passengers are still dissatisfied with the way the rail industry deals with delays. The Office of Rail Regulation asked us to carry out this research to consider the improvements.

“Passengers need information as quickly as possible – ideally before leaving home. Only 17% knew about the disruption before arriving at the station. Passengers now receive information from a range of sources, so train companies must ensure that staff at stations and on trains are ahead of the information game.

“Passengers need frank and honest messages that paint a realistic picture of the problems as they unfold. For instance, a fallen tree across a railway is just that, not an ‘obstruction’. Passengers told the full reasons for the delay are likely to be less frustrated than those who are not.”

In response to the report, Rail Delivery Group, which represents Network Rail and train operators, has announced plans to produce a revised plan to address the issues raised.

Michael Roberts, director general of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Passengers are at the heart of what we do and we know they want the industry to provide them with clear, accurate and timely information so they can make informed journey choices. That is why we have worked hard to make improvements and are already committed to implementing many of the report’s key recommendations.”

The ORR welcomed the response from the rail industry and set out some key criteria that it expects the Rail Delivery Group plan to address. These include accurate and timely information to be put on train company websites, announcements on how to claim compensation if the delay threshold is reached, ensuring platform staff have up to date information and sending automatic compensation alerts to passengers who have booked online.

ORR director of economic regulation, John Larkinson, said: “Passengers are telling us that they need information so they can plan ahead before they begin their journeys. They need to understand the impact of disruptions on their journeys before they get to a station, to be able to adapt their travel plans when things go wrong.

“Improvements have been made in the provision of information to passengers through the introduction of phone apps, better Twitter updates and by giving free access to real time information to app developers. However, more needs to be done.

“Once the industry has published its full action plan with clear dates and responsibilities for delivery, ORR will closely monitor the rail industry's progress against this – to ensure passengers are empowered with the right information during disruption.”

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