NORTHERN Rail emerged today as one of passengers’ least favourite rail companies - with rival Grand Central finding itself at the top of a nationwide satisfaction survey.
Passenger Focus, who surveyed 30,590 rail travellers for its annual study, said the satisfaction scores for individual routes provided by different firms varied from 72% to 95%.
National Express East Anglia had the lowest overall satisfaction rating of all the train operating companies at 77%, while Grand Central, which operates routes between London King’s Cross and Yorkshire, had the highest rating, at 95%.
Other train operating companies with the lowest scores for overall satisfaction include First Capital Connect (80%), CrossCountry (82%), Southeastern (83%), Southern (83%), Northern Rail (83%) and First Great Western (83%).
The highest ratings after Grand Central were achieved by Heathrow Express (93%), Merseyrail (93%), London Overground (92%) and Heathrow Connect (92%).
The national passenger survey, carried out in Autumn 2011, also shows a drop in the proportion of passengers satisfied with value for money for their train ticket, with 46% satisfied compared to 49% last year.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said: “The experience of Great Britain’s passengers ranges from mediocre to good.
“This demonstrates that there is no such thing as the average passenger.
“Satisfaction with value for money has gone down, illustrating the impact that tough economic times, coupled with fare rises, are having.
“These results will enable the industry and Government to focus resources and effort where passenger satisfaction remains in the doldrums. It can be done and passengers will give them credit when investment and proactive management coincide.”
For individual routes, satisfaction with value for money varied from 27% to 80%, while passengers’ satisfaction on having room to stand or sit ranged from 53% to 95%.
Nationally, 81% of passengers were satisfied with punctuality, compared with 82% last year.
Passenger Focus, an independent rail watchdog, singled out South West Trains and Chiltern for problems with punctuality, saying there had been a decline in satisfaction from 2010.
Mr Smith said: “We know from this research that performance remains the key passenger priority. Train companies and Network Rail must keep up a relentless attention on getting trains on time, not only at the end of their routes, but at stations along the way as well.
“Passengers are still paying above-inflation fares rises and have every right to expect the industry to keep its basic promise to get them there on time.”
Mr Smith praised the firms who showed a marked improvement from last year.
He said: “London Overground and Merseyrail have done well for significantly raising their game - reaching 83% and 95% for punctuality/reliability respectively.
“First Capital Connect should also be encouraged for reaching 80% overall satisfaction.
“It’s also positive to note that nationally overall satisfaction with stations went up significantly, as did the scores for ticket-buying facilities and clean train interiors.”
London Overground said “a raft of investment in the service” had led to its high score, which puts it top of the 12 train operating companies in London and the South East. The 92% approval rating was an increase from last year’s figure of 85%.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “Passengers have spoken and these results show that our investment in the London Overground network is paying off.
“We are running more trains, carrying greater numbers of passengers and providing a more reliable service.”
Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said of the survey results: “Overall customer satisfaction remains at a record high level, though the survey results by route show that while there has been progress in many areas, there is no room for complacency.
“Satisfaction has risen significantly in areas such as ticket-buying facilities, car parking and train cleanliness. This reflects the hard work of train companies in providing better services that are attracting more people to rail.
“We recognise that value for money scores remain lower than others and the whole industry needs to focus on tackling costs as well as improving services.
“Successive governments have pursued above-inflation fare rises to reduce taxpayer subsidy while ensuring ongoing investment in the railways. The industry has already set out plans to cut the annual cost of the railway by £1.3 billion a year by 2019 as a way to help limit future fare rises.”
There was a decline in satisfaction for passengers on long-distance journeys, from 87% last year to 86%. Customer approval for value for money and reliability on long journeys also dropped, by 3%.
Regional train operators saw a rise in overall satisfaction, from 86% to 87%.
Two operating companies, South West Trains and Hull Trains, saw levels of satisfaction drop this year. Two significantly improved, First Capital Connect and London Overground, while 19 had no significant change.
South West Trains, which has seen passenger satisfaction drop from 87% to 84% in a year, announced a 10-point plan today to improve punctuality on its services.
Managing director Tim Shoveller said: “We are sorry to have let our passengers down recently. We are absolutely determined to work closely with Network Rail to restore their trust and our normal high levels of service.”
Anna Walker, chairwoman of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), said: “Passenger Focus’s autumn National Passenger Survey shows that overall passenger satisfaction remains strong at 84%, with research highlighting some welcome improvements in satisfaction with station and train facilities.
“However, passengers also highlight areas of real concern, and the rail industry must work harder, and more collaboratively, to give passengers the service they deserve.
“The lowest score was for how well train companies dealt with delays - only 38% passengers said that this was good or satisfactory.
“ORR is acutely aware of this, and is working intensively with the industry to ensure that substantial improvements in the provision of passenger information are made.”