Which? reveals majority of rail passengers face delays, overcrowding and dirty trains

The majority of rail passengers are experiencing delayed, dirty or overcrowded train journeys, according to new research by consumer champion Which?

The scale and breadth of issues that rail passengers face has been laid bare in a recent survey by the consumer champion, which is now calling on the next Government to ensure all passengers are provided with better services.

In the survey, carried out by Populus on behalf of Which?, passengers were asked what problems they had experienced taking trains over the last six months.

More than half of people (53%) said they couldn’t get a seat due to overcrowding at least once, with one in seven (15%) of people saying that this occurred to them regularly.

Delays are also a big problem, with most people (51%) experiencing train delays of up to 15 minutes and around one in ten (12%) saying they had faced frequent delays.

Half of passengers also said that their carriage was dirty or littered at least once, while one in five (18%) of those asked said that they weren’t able to access any toilet facilities on a long train journey on at least one occasion.

However, many passengers do not trust that rail companies will put things right when their services fail – only two in five people (43%) trust the train company to handle their claim for compensation fairly.

There has also been a significant shift in consumer trust in the rail industry, which has fallen 11 percentage points in the last year, from 37% in March 2016 to 26% in March 2017*.

The research also found that most people don’t know how to complain. Two thirds (67%) thought they could go to the “rail ombudsman” if they were unhappy with the way their complaint was dealt with, even though there is currently no ombudsman for rail.

Thousands of passengers have contacted Which? to share their poor experiences during train journeys.

  • “Too many to mention – cancelled trains – trains curtailed – no trains to route that I usually use and every day in the morning mass overcrowding with fights on some days to squeeze further in – animals are treated better.” – Jerry
  • “My wife and I have written to complain on a number of occasions. In some instances we have had a response but on other occasions, nothing.”- Phillip

Ahead of the election, Which? is calling on the next Government to hold train companies to account for poor passenger services in its ‘Consumer Agenda for Government’.

This includes establishing a mandatory, statutory Transport Ombudsman that all train companies and airlines must join to help manage passenger complaints with their services.

The powers and duties of the Office of Rail and Road must also be strengthened, so that it more clearly puts the rights of passengers first.

The need for action is backed up by consumers, with one in five people (20%) believing rail should be a key priority for the next Government.

Alex Hayman, Which? Managing Director of Public Markets, said:

“The rail sector is failing passengers on too frequent a basis. People believe that improving rail services should be one of the top priorities for the next Government, which isn’t surprising given the numerous stories we have heard about constant delays and overcrowding that many people face on a daily basis.

“The next Government will need to quickly step up and ensure that passengers are getting a much better standard of service. Trust can only begin to be restored by introducing an independent, statutory ombudsman, and a stronger regulator that stands up for passengers.”


Notes to Editors:


“It’s unacceptable, I’m not getting the train for free and I’m not asking any favour! I’m paying an expensive ticket to get a horrible service.”-Fabiano

“Written complaint sent 30th December. No acknowledgement or response. No response to email. telephone and told “at least” a 3 month delay in dealing with complaints. Couldn’t even say whether received as not being scanned onto system for “at least 2 months”.”- Janet  


  1. Populus, on behalf of Which? interviewed 2,095 people between 10th and 12th March, 2017. Of those 880 people had used rail services at least once in the previous six months. The research was carried out six months after  the Consumer Rights Act  was extended to travel. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of the UK population.
  2. Consumer Insight Tracker: The Which? Consumer Insight Tracker is a nationally representative online poll of around 2,000 households conducted every two months. Results are routinely published on the first Tuesday of the following month at http://consumerinsight.which.co.uk/. The latest results are for March 2017.
  3. Populus, on behalf of Which? interviewed 2,130 UK adults online between 19th and 20th April 2017. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of the UK population. People were asked to pick up to three consumer issues from a list provided that they believed the next Government should prioritise.
  4. The Which? ‘Consumer Agenda for Government’ was published on Saturday 29th April – it calls for a Transport Ombudsman and new powers for the rail regulator to hold train companies to account for poor passenger services. Full report available here: www.which.co.uk/consumeragenda.

Press Release