Which? reveals Britain’s train travel blackspots

Which? reveals Britain’s train travel blackspots – the stations where the trains frequently fail to run on time, causing appalling disruption to thousands of people every day.

The consumer champion analysed rail network data to find the commuter hubs worst hit by delays and cancellations – and reveals the train companies with the poorest punctuality records at those stations.

These underperforming destinations and services demonstrate how monitoring and enforcement of punctuality in the rail system is currently not up to scratch – a problem Which? believes the forthcoming rail review must address as a priority.

Which? looked at the 20 busiest stations in the UK excluding London and the 10 busiest London stations since the beginning of this year.

Using data from rail-performance tracking site On Time Trains we considered how many departures and arrivals were at least one minute late or cancelled.    

Which? analysed all delays as even those of a few minutes can have a knock-on effect on other services on the network and passengers’ onward journey – or ability to complete their journey as planned.

Manchester’s Oxford Road station – which hosts more than nine million passenger journeys each year – takes the undesirable crown of the train station with the least punctual services, with more than two-thirds (68%) of its trains running late or cancelled since the beginning of this year.

This was even worse at peak times – with more than three-quarters (77%) of trains not departing or arriving as scheduled.

One in 20 (5%) of the trains at this station were cancelled when you look at both peak and off-peak times.

Manchester was one of the cities hugely impacted by the timetable chaos earlier this year, with dire knock-on effects for passengers’ personal and professional lives.

Of the train companies operating at this station, East Midlands Trains performed worst with more than three-quarters (78%) of trains departing or arriving late. Passengers travelling through Manchester Oxford Road with this company might be going to or from destinations including Sheffield, Liverpool Lime Street and Norwich.

TransPennine Express was second worst performing with 73% of trains departing or arriving late.

Many passengers travelling to or from Oxford Road station on these trains might be going to or from Newcastle, Leeds or Manchester Airport.   

Thousands of passengers travelling via York station – which has more than 10 million annual passenger journeys – have had to endure the second worst performance with 65% of trains departing or arriving late or cancelled altogether.

Virgin East Coast Trains (which had its franchise taken over by London North Eastern Railway in June) was the operator which performed worst for passengers at this station with more than three-quarters (78%) arriving or departing late or being cancelled. These passengers might be coming or going from destinations including London King’s Cross, Edinburgh Waverley, Newcastle and Leeds.

This was closely followed by Grand Central (77%), which serves Sunderland, London and Hartlepool passengers among others.     

Passengers at Gatwick Airport and Birmingham New Street have had to put up with the joint third worst punctuality, with 60% of services failing to run to schedule.

Many Gatwick passengers would be depending on a train to get them to the airport in time for a flight. At this station, Southern had 66% of trains late or cancelled while Thameslink was only marginally better performing at 59%.

At Birmingham New Street, passengers using CrossCountry and Arriva Wales Trains (which has since changed to KeolisAmey on 14 October) had the roughest ride with 66% and 65% late or cancelled respectively.

Of the London stations, Clapham Junction was the worst performing with more than half (54%) running late or being cancelled. South Western Railway and Southern were the worst performing train companies serving these stations. South Western Railway had 60% late or cancelled and Southern had 58%.

Despite the huge number of delays since the beginning of the year outlined by this research, the number of delayed journeys that passengers could be eligible to claim compensation for was remarkably low.

Not all delays and cancellations are the fault of train operating companies.

Fifteen minutes is the point at which Delay Repay compensation can kick in.

Despite the widespread disruption, at the 20 busiest stations excluding London, 3% of services were delayed by 15 minutes or more and 3% were cancelled, meaning passengers on only up to 13% of all delayed or cancelled services could be eligible for compensation.

The situation is similar at the 10 busiest stations in London where 2% of services were delayed by 15 minutes or more, and 3% cancelled. This also represents only up to 13% of all its delayed or cancelled services which could be eligible.

But many people on these services would still not be eligible for compensation as many train companies do not offer Delay Repay 15 – still only offering compensation after 30 minutes or alternative compensation scheme.

Which? believes this inconsistent approach to compensation across the network leads to many passengers missing out on the compensation they should be owed. Recent DfT research has shown that only 18% of passengers entitled to compensation under DR15 actually claimed it and only 39% of passengers did so under DR30.

Fully automatic compensation should be rolled out for all passengers facing disruption today to simplify an unnecessarily complex and confusing system.

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

“Passengers have told us reliability is hugely important to them. People have been left deeply frustrated at the unacceptably high levels of delays and cancellations which impact on their everyday lives.

“Passengers must be at the centre of the forthcoming Government rail review, it must look at performance targets to drive improvements in punctuality and reliability for passengers.  

“The review must not be used as an excuse to delay real action to improve passengers’ experiences on the trains today. As a first step, the Government must introduce fully automatic compensation, ensuring more passengers get the money they are owed.”


Mark Wylie, 51, a Manchester commuter, said:

“TransPennine Express’ punctuality is awful, their trains at peak periods are overcrowded and suffer cancellations. There are also far too many cancellations often with the train running through but not stopping so that it can make up time. It impacts greatly on a person’s ability to get to and from work or catch an onward connection in Manchester and results in people getting even earlier trains just in case their chosen service is cancelled.”

Jamie Buchanan-Conroy, 28, a Clapham Junction commuter, said:

“I was so fed up of the daily delays through Clapham Junction I actually had to change my commute. I paid for an extra zone to take an indirect route to work because the direct train was so unreliable I couldn’t use it to get to work. I’m lucky that I had an alternative option many have no choice but to face a daily battle simply to get from A to B.”

Notes to editors

  • This research has been compiled by rail performance-tracking site On Time Trains which collates National Rail and Network Rail data to provide passenger tools such as station rankings and delay repay lookup. Passengers can see how their own station’s performance compares to others on the On Time Trains website.
  • The figures are based on the period 1 January 2018 through 30 September 2018 inclusive.
  • The busiest 20 non-London and 10 London stations were selected for this analysis based on passenger counts in the Office of Rail and Road’s 2016-17 station usage report.
  • The analysis considers the performance of every service stop/ origination/ termination at a station, including those which were unscheduled.
  • To reflect the full extent of any performance issues, delays were assessed based on the worst of any arrival or departure delays for each service stop. For example, a service arriving five minutes late and departing 10 minutes late was considered 10 minutes late overall for that stop. If no observed timing data was available, the last forecast time has been used instead. If either arrival or departure were cancelled, the stop was considered cancelled.
  • In this press release, any train arriving or departing a minute or more after when scheduled is considered late. However, currently train punctuality, or the public performance measure (PPM) for train companies is measured by whether a train arrives at its termination station within five or 10 minutes of its scheduled time.
  • Service stops on weekdays between 07:00 and 09:59 or 16:00 and 18:59 were considered peak.
  • Services from all operators were included in the analysis, but in our operator breakdown we only considered those with an average of at least four services per day at a station.
  • Our analysis looks at arrivals and departures but you are only eligible for Delay Repay and other compensation based on arrivals. Also if a delayed service was overtaken it may not be eligible (if passengers could have switched to another service to arrive in time). Delayed departures may not arrive 15 minutes or more late, and cancelled services are not eligible if an alternative service arrives within the 15 minute window of the cancelled train.
  • Currently only eight train operating companies offer Delay Repay 15.
  • Which?’s own consumer insight tracker suggests distrust in the rail industry has gone up significantly in the UK since January.

    – Nationally, the level of distrust in rail companies to act in consumers’ best interest sits at 38%. The tracker has found that distrust is particularly high in the South East at 49%, up from 41% in January of this year, the North West at 47% (from 37%), and in the East Midlands and South West at 42%.

    – In London distrust is at 33% having been at 32% at the beginning of the year.
  • The Which? Consumer Insight Tracker website is an online data resource, providing a uniquely detailed picture of today’s consumers. Our tracker survey, updated every two months, reports our survey data on consumer worries, trust, and financial distress. It can be filtered by age, income, gender or region, and goes back to June 2012. Populus, on behalf of Which?, conduct bi-monthly surveys of 2000 consumers to gauge perception and attitudes to the consumer landscape. For the latest wave, they surveyed 2100 UK adults online between 19th-20th September 2018. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of the UK population.
  • Department for Transport: Rail Delays and Compensation report 2018

Twenty busiest stations excluding London

Train company / worst performing TOCs serving at selected stations Percentage of train services delayed by one minute or more or cancelled Cancellation rates (%)
Manchester Oxford Road 68 5
–       East Midlands 78 3
–       TransPennine Express 73 6
York 65 3
–       Virgin East Coast (LNER since June) 78 3
–       Grand Central 77 5
Gatwick Airport 60 5
–       Southern 66 3
–       Thameslink 59 7
Birmingham New Street 60 2
–       CrossCountry 66 2
–       Arriva Trains Wales (which has since changed to KeolisAmey on 14 October) 65 5
Bristol Temple Meads 58 4
Manchester Picadilly 56 4
Sheffield 54 2
Manchester Victoria 51 4
Woking 50 2
Liverpool Central 49 1
Liverpool Lime Street 47 3
Reading 46 4
Cambridge 45 5
Leeds 45 2
Guildford 43 2
Edinburgh 42 4
Cardiff Central 40 3
Glasgow Queen Street 39 3
Glasgow Central 34 3
Brighton 26 3


Ten busiest London stations


Clapham Junction 54 3
–    South Western Railway 60 3
–    Southern 58 4
London King’s Cross 45 6
–    Hull Trains 63 12
–    Grand Central 57 6
London Victoria 44 3
Stratford (London) 41 3
London Bridge 40 4
London Waterloo 39 2
London Paddington 38 4
London Euston 33 2
London Liverpool Street 32 3
London St Pancras (Intl) 30 4

Press Release