Best and worst train companies
Timetable chaos, tired and dirty trains, daily delays, cancellations and overcrowding... It's perhaps little surprise that train companies have felt the brunt of commuter frustrations in our latest passenger satisfaction survey.
Scores were low across the board when we asked commuters to give an overall rating for the train companies they travel with regularly. Many companies also fared poorly on a range of criteria, including reliability, punctuality, value for money and cleanliness.
So which train companies were rated first class, and which rail firms are bottom of the pack?
Fed up commuters share their train pain
Northern, Southern, Thameslink and Southeastern can all be found at the bottom of our commuter rating table, with customer scores of 32%, 34%, 36% and 41% respectively. All were rated poorly for punctuality, reliability and value for money in particular.
South Western Railway (43%), Great Northern (43%) and TransPennine Express (44%) also sit close to the bottom of our table.
Cancellations and delays hit many commuters in 2018 as a result of timetable changes, adverse weather (remember the Beast from the East?), overrunning Network Rail engineering works and industrial action.
Around half of commuters told us they found train travel stressful on a frequent basis.
Which train companies came out on top?
Island Line topped the list of the UK's commuter train companies with 68%. The company, which runs trains on the Isle of Wight, did earn a full five stars for punctuality, value for money and reliability.
Other higher scorers – also generally smaller companies, serving fewer passengers – include Grand Central (63%), Hull Trains (62%) and Translink NI Railway (62%).
No Which? Recommended Providers
This year, we ran some additional analysis – crunching the numbers from our survey results with other official statistics from Transport Focus, the Office for Rail and Road (ORR) and Network Rail – to see if we could name best-in-class rail companies as Which? Recommended Providers.
Sadly, no rail companies were keeping customers happy enough to meet the standards we’d expect, but we’ll monitor this as we continue to campaign for a better service for passengers.
Train companies rated by commuters
In October and November 2018, we asked almost 4,000 commuters to rate their regular train journeys to work or places of study.
Haven't seen the train company you use for your journey? Here's our table of full results for commuter services, the sample sizes are in brackets.
|Train companies rated|
|Rank||Train company||Customer score||Punctuality||Frequency||Value for money||Availability of seats|
|1||Island Line Trains (72)||68%|
|2||Grand Central (99)||63%|
|=3||Hull Trains (75)||62%|
|=3||Translink NI Railways (84)||62%|
|=5||Heathrow Connect (85)||60%|
|=5||Stansted Express (104)||60%|
|=7||Chiltern Railways (127)||58%|
|=7||Heathrow Express (104)||58%|
|=7||London Northwestern Railway (99)||58%|
|11||Virgin Trains (141)||57%|
|12||Gatwick Express (87)||56%|
|13||East Midlands Trains (168)||55%|
|=14||West Midlands Railway (134)||52%|
|=16||London Overground (184)||50%|
|=16||TFL Rail (119)||50%|
|18||Cross Country Trains (133)||49%|
|19||Arriva Trains Wales (154)||48%|
|=20||Greater Anglia (134)||47%|
|=20||Great Western Railways (165)||47%|
|22||London North Eastern Railway (106)||47%|
|24||TransPennine Express (116)||44%|
|=25||Great Northern (136)||43%|
|=25||South Western Railway (214)||43%|
Punctuality: Customers’ perceptions of how many trains arrive and depart on time.
Frequency: Customers’ perceptions of how often train services are.
Customer score: Combines overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend the train company to others.
The human impact of train delays
In May 2018 changes to the rail timetable caused unprecedented chaos for passengers travelling with Northern, Thameslink and Great Northern.
Cancellations and delays affected thousands of commuters in the South East and north of England, causing a knock-on effect across lines run by other train companies including Southern and TransPennine Express.
For some, the impact of these weeks has stayed with them. Melissa Marsh was five months pregnant when her commute from St Neots to London went into meltdown.
With a young daughter to pick up from nursery, Melissa found it extremely difficult and very stressful. ‘I didn’t want to damage my baby,’ she said. ‘I was having panic attacks about catching the train.’
Ex-Northern passenger Jonathan Lee-Smith changed jobs and moved to a different part of the country following months of problems commuting to and from work: 'I couldn't offer the commitment to my employer; it wasn't fair on them or me. So I took a new job without the commute'.
Alison Fotheringham also travels with Southern. Train delays and problems continue to impact her family life and have, on occasion, led to additional childcare costs as a result of late pick-ups.
We heard from many commuters about the real impact delays in the past year had had on their lives.
- 17% missed out on time with family and friends.
- 9% had been disciplined at work.
- 6% incurred additional childcare costs.
- 4% had to move house.
What about leisure journeys?
Passengers had a more slightly positive experience when taking a journey by train in their own time. Merseyrail, serving Liverpool and Merseyside, topped the list with a customer score of 72%. It did well across the board (despite not having any toilets), with full five-star ratings for value for money and punctuality.
Translink NI Railways (70%) came second, with customers overwhelmingly impressed with the service. It’s run by the Northern Irish government and is the country’s sole train company. Commuting high-scorer Island Line Trains also makes an appearance near the top. It’s the highest-scoring company in the south of England, with 66%, alongside long-distance service Grand Central.
Airport services, which are essential for leisure travellers, generally scored well. Heathrow Connect, now part of TFL Rail, was the highest-rated airport train service, with 62%, followed by Stansted Express (61%) and Heathrow Express (60%). Gatwick Express was the lowest scorer, with a mid-table 58%. It’s part of Southern and runs along the busy lines through Gatwick and Croydon into London, making it the most delayed airport service.
The lowest-scoring commuter travel services aren’t pleasing leisure passengers, either: languishing at the bottom are Southern and Northern with 43% each, and Thameslink (48%). All three got marginally higher scores for leisure journeys than for commuting, but problems on these lines have affected travellers across the board.
UK train companies rated
Below you'll find a complete list of all the train companies that operate a regular service in the UK in alphabetical order. See how they fared across leisure and commuter travel.