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Virgin Trains West Coast and Grand Central saw most complaints in Q1

Grand Central and Virgin Trains West Coast had the highest complaints rate in relation to passenger satisfaction during the first quarter of 2015-16, despite the national rate of complaints having decreased.

According to figures released today (8 October) by the Office of Rail and Road, Virgin Trains West Coast topped the complaint list regarding franchised operators – having received almost 197 complaints per 100,000 passenger journeys.

In 2014-15, the TOC saw a 20% increase in its complaints rate compared to 2013-14, marking the first year since 2008-09 that it had not seen a drop in this rate. But despite this poor performance carrying on to the first quarter of 2015-16, it actually represented an improvement of 7% compared to the same quarter last year.

In terms of non-franchised operators, Grand Central’s performance was even worse at 265 complaints per the same amount of journeys – although only two non-franchised companies provided data.

Both performances were well above the national average of nearly 26 complaints per 100,000 journeys.

And overall, Chiltern experienced the largest increase in complaints rate – up by 62.5% in the first quarter of this year to 102 complaints per 100,000 journeys.


‘Long-term downward trend’ in national complaints

Despite this, the national rate of complaints per train journey dropped by almost 4% compared to the same quarter in 2014-15. This follows on from a “long-term downward trend” in the overall complaint rate since the time series began in 2002-3.

In total, 10 of the 19 franchised operators saw a drop in their complaints rate this quarter complained to the same period last year.

This positive outlook contrasts to the overall satisfaction measure from the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS), which showed the lowest levels (80%) of passenger satisfaction in spring of this year since the same time in 2008. The PPM for the first quarter of 2015-16 was also lower than that of the same period in 2014, also contrasting with lower complaints rates.

The ORR report said: “Some have attributed this to passengers gravitating towards social media to complain about their train operator rather than using more traditional methods. ORR recently published a report on the increasing use of social media amongst passengers and the challenges in capturing complaints.

“However it should be noted that in some instances TOCs may direct passengers complaining on social media to their official complaint channels, therefore some complaints that originate on social media may be reflected in the number of complaints receive by more traditional methods.”

The operator with the lowest complaints rate was London Overground – also the operator with the lowest rate during 2014-15. And although its complaints rate was almost 19% higher than the same quarter last year, it was still marginal, at 3.3 complaints per 100,000 passenger journeys.

The ORR said this low rate can be explained by “this operator being a relatively recent service with new rolling stock in use and a higher frequency of service compared with earlier operators”.

And First Great Western saw the largest decrease in complaints rate compared to the same quarter last year, with a reduction of 31.4% to almost 29 complaints per 100,000 journeys.

Types of complaints

Complaints about the punctuality and reliability of trains were the most common, accounting for almost 30% of all criticisms received by TOCs – but ticketing and refund policies and on-board facilities were also problematic.

In fact, the proportion of complaints about on-board facilities grew by 2.3 percentage points to 7.3% in 2014-15 compared to the year before, with this category now accounting for the third highest proportion (8%) of complaints in franchised operators. This figure more than doubled considering just First TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains East Coast.

Smartcards have also been a growing issue now that more operators are rolling out different systems on their networks. During the first quarter of 2015-16, complaints relating to smart ticketing were the second most cause of complaints to c2c at 15.4%. This follows the roll out of the operator’s scheme across their route in November 2014.

And in terms of responding to complaints, Southeastern and Grand Central were the only TOCs to respond to all complaints within 20 working days.

South West Trains lagged behind by only answering to just over half of complaints within that time frame, although that is an improvement of its performance in the first quarter of 2014-15, during which it answered just 38% of complaints quickly enough.


M Brooks   08/10/2015 at 21:34

I cannot understand why the complaints figure for Govia Thameslink is so low, given the number of cancellations "due to driver being unavailable". Perhaps users of this service have given up complaining, the relibility being so poor. When is TL going to be able to run its published timetable, each and every day?

Colin Moss   09/10/2015 at 13:21

This is all based on journeys and not miles travelled. I suspect the table would look very different if this was adopted.

John Grant   09/10/2015 at 18:43

Yes, typical journeys on TL must be quite a lot shorter than on Grand Central. It'd be interesting to know what the complaints to GC were about.

John   09/10/2015 at 19:13

XC Trains anywhere?? Their Stansted Airport to Birmingham service is absolutley dire. Two coach trains and very regular delays and those terrible class 170 dmu's The service needs a thorough overhaul - with someone else opeerating it - and no, I do NOT mean another bus company! We are all thoroughly fed up of them!!

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