Rail passengers experiences and priorities during engineering works

Passenger Focus has carried out new research into passengers’ views and experiences of using the railway when engineering work is disrupting the timetable.

The strength of feeling against replacement buses suggests that even more effort is needed to deliver maintenance, renewal and enhancements while keeping passengers on trains. Is the industry yet at the point where, hand on heart, every ‘all lines’ closure has been agreed only after consideration of the full range of options? Is the industry still too often starting at the “what is easy for the railway” end of the spectrum?

Colin Foxall CBE, Chairman, Passenger Focus

Culturally, the starting point remains how it is easiest to do the job and not how“ to do the job with minimal inconvenience to passengers.”

Rail passengers’ experiences and priorities during engineering works: Passenger Focus Report, September 2012

A quote which sums up perfectly the approach which SMART believes has been taken with regard to maintaining train services to Slaithwaite and Marsden during the Stalybridge blockade week.

Here’s the summary of Passenger Focus’ findings and recommendations: 


• Most passengers, including those travelling for business or leisure, feel that engineering works should be planned to have minimal impact on daily commuters, even if the alternative impacts on them.

• Rail passengers want to travel by train rather than bus (55% of passengers would not travel by train at all if part of the journey was to be by bus).

• Most rail passengers will tolerate an extended journey time of up to 30 minutes on a normally one hour journey if the train is diverted around engineering works (94% at 15 minutes extra; 75% at 30 minutes extra).

• Unless a replacement bus will be quicker by 40 minutes or more, most rail passengers will opt for a diverted train over a faster replacement bus.

• When passengers buy tickets it is not made sufficiently clear when the journey will involve a bus or a diverted train with a significantly extended journey time (42% of passengers in our sample of those buying tickets online for a journey affected by engineering works did not see a warning to that effect).

• Passengers report poor customer service when transferring between train and replacement bus and vice versa, citing lack of signage to the buses, lack of clarity about which bus is going where and inadequate assistance with luggage.

• Passengers with disabilities have similar needs to other passengers when it comes to engineering work, but with an even stronger preference not to use a replacement bus and even greater need for practical assistance in transferring from train to train and bus to train when that is necessary.

• An overwhelming proportion of passengers (85%) felt that having to use a replacement bus warranted a discount on the normal train fare.

• While further research is needed to fully understand this, passengers appear dissatisfied with the current practice of major closures taking place at Christmas and Easter – and feel that scheduling works at other times of the year, notably during school holidays and in the summer, would be preferable.


That the rail industry should make further concerted efforts to use replacement buses only as a last resort. Buses will deter 55% of passengers from travelling by train altogether, and introduce a ‘weak link’ in the journey for those who persevere. We acknowledge that progress has been made, but the impression we get is that, culturally, the starting point remains how it is easiest to do the job and not how to do the job with minimal inconvenience to passengers. The options involving less impact on passengers (e.g. overnight working, single line working, diverting around) must be considered in collaborative discussions between Network Rail and train companies and, where appropriate, eliminated for valid, transparent reasons. Only then should options involving buses be entertained.

That National Rail Enquiries, train companies and online retailers must do more to help passengers make an informed choice when a bus or diverted train is involved. On many websites the fact that a journey involves a bus is not immediately apparent, requiring a further ‘click’. No websites currently caution passengers that they are being offered a diverted train, despite the ‘product’ being materially different (e.g. in journey time or intermediate stopping pattern – information which many passengers will need to make an informed choice).

That train companies must deliver better customer service when passengers transfer from train to bus and vice versa. Areas to consider include:

On the train journey to the interchange station.

Better information; greater staff presence on the train to answer queries, and provide reassurance; more empathy from staff (train crew may not perceive the journey to be disrupted – they are doing what they have been rostered to do and they are on time – but passengers may have a different view).

At the interchange station. Greater staff presence to provide information/reassurance, to assist with luggage and guide passengers to the buses, and improved signage of the route from platform to bus.

Boarding the buses. Staff presence to answer questions, give reassurance and provide help loading luggage, labelling of buses with destination and calling points, and providing bus drivers with an overview of what is happening so they can provide basic information to passengers.

The specific needs of passengers with disabilities, whether related to mobility or another impairment.

How well are APRS bookings delivered during engineering works? Are arrangements adequate for disabled passengers travelling without having booked?

The research also revealed two areas in which there may be an opportunity for the rail industry to improve passengers’ perceptions of engineering-related disruption:

There is appetite among some passengers for summary “what is being done?” “how do I benefit?” information to be available when engineering work takes place. The way Transport for London describes disruption caused by its Tube Upgrade Plan was cited as good practice in the research. We encourage the rail industry to consider how it can allow passengers to understand how they will benefit from the short-term pain.

The full report can be found at





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