We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies as per our policy which also explains how to change your preferences.

Best and worst UK train companies

Best and worst train companies in the UK

By Vicki Crowe

Article 1 of 1

Put us to the test

Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You'll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don't get stuck with a Don't Buy.

Best and worst UK train companies

We’ve spoken to thousands of commuters and leisure travellers about their train experiences. See how they rated UK train companies – is your train company best in class or worst on the rails?

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? 

Full results: Go straight to see how your train company performed

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

Haven't seen the train company you use for your journey? Read our table of full results for commuter services:

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.

Commuter customer score: 48% - 19th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 52% - 25th out of 30 train companies

Transport for Wales has now taken over all previous Arriva Trains Wales routes. As well as journeys within Wales, the service also covers destinations in England such as Crewe and Manchester.

Those who had commuted using Arriva Trains Wales gave it a middling three stars for every element of travel, including punctuality, value for money and frequency.

Leisure passengers were less impressed with seat availability, punctuality and the condition of carriages, giving it two stars for each of these. In fact, Arriva Trains Wales came a lowly 25th out of 30 train operating companies in our leisure survey.

Commuter customer score: 52% - joint 14th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 61% - joint 8th out of 30 train companies

C2C runs services between Fenchurch Street in London to Shoeburyness, serving 26 stations in east London and south Essex.

In our survey of commuters it received four stars across the board, for aspects of travel including punctuality, value for money and seat availability.

It was a similar story in our survey of leisure passengers, but the train company received five-star ratings in two categories: reliability and carriage condition.

Commuter customer score: 58% - joint 7th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 63% - 6th out of 30 train companies

Chiltern Railways covers big cities London and Birmingham, as well as other places such as Kidderminster, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick.

For both its commuter and leisure services, it earned the full five stars for the quality of its carriages, and four stars for several key aspects including seat availability, value for money and punctuality.

Commuter customer score: 49% - 18th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 55% - joint 21st out of 30 train companies

Cross Country Trains connects many towns and cities in Britain, including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester and Newcastle. Its most southerly point is Penzance in Cornwall, and its most northerly is Aberdeen.

Commuters gave it just two stars for reliability and frequency, and three stars for everything else, including punctuality and value for money.

Leisure passengers, on the other hand, gave it two stars for punctuality and seat availability.

Commuter customer score: 55% - 13th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 60% - 11th out of 30 train companies

East Midlands runs long-distance services to and from London, as well as regional services connecting towns and cities in central and northern England and the East Midlands.

It lingers around the middle of the league table for both commuter and leisure services. Commuters gave it a middle-of-the-road three-star rating for the frequency of its service, but it earned four stars for value for money, punctuality and seat availability.

Its leisure passengers were less positive about seat availability and the condition of carriages, giving it three stars for each.

Commuter customer score: 56% - 12th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 58% - joint 16th out of 30 train companies

The Gatwick Express runs trains from London Victoria to Gatwick Airport, and then on to Brighton (with a few other stations served along the way, including Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath).

Those who have used its services for commuting gave it four stars across the board in our survey, for a range of aspects such as punctuality and value for money.

Passengers using the service for leisure still gave it four stars for value for money and seat availability, but a lower three stars for punctuality – an important measure for a service that runs to the airport. It’s the lowest rated of all the airport services in our survey.

Commuter customer score: 63% - 2nd out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 66% - joint 3rd out of 30 train companies

Grand Central runs trains between Sunderland and London King’s Cross, as well as from Bradford Interchange to London. It’s part of the Arriva group.

It came in second place, with five-star ratings for seat availability and value for money. It was just beaten to the top spot by Island Line.

Grand Central was in joint third place for leisure services, with ratings of four and five stars across the board apart from for the frequency of its trains, for which it got three stars.

Commuter customer score: 43% - joint 25th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 49% - 27th out of 30 train companies

Great Northern was one of the train companies affected by the May 2018 timetable chaos, and passengers ranked it towards the bottom of both our commuter and leisure tables.

It scored just two stars for punctuality, reliability and value for money in both categories.

Leisure travellers rated it just one star for customer service, and it fared only slightly better (two stars) with commuters.

Commuter customer score: 47% - joint 20th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 56% - 20th out of 30 train companies

Great Western Railway covers lots of places of interest, including Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, London and Oxford. It also operates the sleeper service between London and Penzance in Cornwall.

It’s decidedly in the bottom half of our league table of commuter services, according to our survey. It received just two stars for punctuality and value for money, which are both key aspects of train travel.

It’s a similar story in our leisure passenger survey, but while it received three stars for value for money here, its rating for seat availability went down to two stars.

Commuter customer score: 47% - joint 20th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 55% - joint 21st out of 30 train companies

Operating between London and East Anglia, Greater Anglia is joint 20th in the commuter train company ranking. For leisure it ranks 21st out of 30 train companies.

Leisure travellers were particularly unimpressed with the customer service and toilet facilities, awarding just two stars, although they’re happier with the amount of standing space available (four stars).

Commuters rated the punctuality and reliability poorly, with just two stars. Like the leisure travellers, they also gave it two stars for customer service and toilets.

Commuter customer score: 60% - joint 5th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 62% - 7th out of 30 train companies

Heathrow Connect services don’t exist anymore, having now been taken over by TfL Rail.

Those who had used Heathrow Connect for commuting rated it positively across the board, including five stars for seat availability. It also ranked quite highly for leisure services, with four and five stars for all key measures.

Commuter customer score: 58% - joint 7th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 60% - joint 11th out of 30 train companies

Heathrow Express is a train service that runs from London Paddington station to Heathrow Airport terminals. The train from London Paddington to Terminals 2 and 3 is claimed to take 15 minutes.

Those who have used the Heathrow Express for commuting gave it the full five stars for seat availability, and four stars for every other aspect in our survey (including value for money and punctuality). It received lower ratings among leisure passengers for value for money (three stars) and seat availability (four stars).

Commuter customer score: 62% - joint 3rd out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 58% - joint 16th out of 30 train companies

Hull Trains runs services between Hull (unsurprisingly) and London. It’s near the top of the table for its commuter service, and got four-star ratings for many important aspects such as seat availability, punctuality, and value for money.

For leisure services, it sits in the middle of the league (but received an uncommon five stars for customer service).

Commuter customer score: 68% - 1st out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 66% - joint 3rd out of 30 train companies

The Island Line is a sub-brand of South Western Railway, and serves the Isle of Wight. It’s at the top of the commuter services league table from our survey, earning five stars for punctuality, seat availability and value for money.

It came third for leisure services, bested only by Merseyrail and Translink NI Railways. However, its leisure passengers were still very impressed across the board.

Commuter score – 47% - joint 20th out of 30 train companies

Leisure score – 61% - joint 8th out of 30 train companies

Now in government hands, London North Eastern Railway (LNER) took over from Virgin East Coast in June 2018. It operates between London and the north-east of England.

While LNER sits within the bottom 10 commuter train companies, leisure travellers ranked it more highly. Coming in at joint eighth for leisure journeys, it received five stars for customer service and toilet facilities in our leisure traveller survey.

Commuters were less enamoured, giving it three stars across the board with the exception of seat availability, which got four stars.

Commuter customer score: 58% - joint 7th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 60% - joint 11th out of 30 train companies

London Northwestern Railway services cover a lot of ground, ticking off big cities including Birmingham, Liverpool and London. It stops at plenty of other stations, too.

It’s one the highest-rated services among commuters, earning four stars in our survey for seat availability, punctuality, frequency and value for money.

When it comes to leisure services, it moves a little further down the table. Passengers were less impressed by seat availability and punctuality, but still felt like they got a pretty good service for their money.

Commuter customer score: 50% - joint 16th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 59% - 15th out of 30 train companies

The London Overground serves London and the surrounding area, and compliments the Underground.

Commuters gave it a middle-of-the-road three stars for most elements of travel in our survey, including for punctuality, seat availability and value for money. The one exception is customer service, for which it received two stars.

Leisure passengers were more positive about its value for money and reliability, giving it four stars for each. However, these travellers were less impressed with seat availability, giving it two stars, and customer service, for which they gave it an abysmal one star.

Commuter customer score: 58% - joint 7th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 72% - 1st out of 30 train companies

Merseyrail operates in around the Liverpool City Region, which includes Ormskirk, Southport and Wirral.

It’s at the top of the league for its leisure services. Passengers gave it top marks for seat availability, punctuality, frequency and value for money, and four stars for its customer service.

It’s ranked seventh (out of 30) for commuter services. Those who have used the service to commute generally gave it a lower rating, but it’s a reasonably positive picture compared with many other services.

Commuter customer score: 32% - 30th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 43% - joint 29th out of 30 train companies

Northern was poorly rated across the board by leisure travellers and commuters alike. Mired by strikes, engineering works and timetable chaos in 2018, it’s no surprise.

When rated by commuters it scored two stars for standing room and one star for everything else; including punctuality, availability of seats, customer service and value for money.

Leisure travellers didn’t rate it much better, giving just two stars for seat availability and standing room, and one star for everything else.

Commuter customer score: 45% - 23rd out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 60%- joint 11th out of 30 train companies

Scotland’s only train company, Scotrail, is in the bottom 10 of the commuter train company ratings.

Yet with leisure travellers it received much higher ratings, coming joint 11th alongside London Northwestern Railway and East Midlands Trains.

While commuters gave it just two stars for punctuality and reliability, leisure travellers awarded three stars for punctuality and a good score of four stars for reliability.

Commuter customer score: 41% - 27th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 51% - 26th out of 30 train companies

Operating from Sussex and Kent into London, Southeastern serves the commuter heartland (much like Great Northern, Thameslink and Southern).

Yet commuters aren’t happy. It’s ranked fourth from the bottom of the commuter table. It fared only slightly better with leisure travellers, who ranked it fifth from the bottom.

Commuters have rated it just one star for value for money. Leisure travellers thought it offers poor customer service, awarding just one star in this category.

But they were more positive than commuters when it comes to the reliability and frequency of trains, awarding three stars compared with two for commuters.

Commuter customer score: 43% - joint 25th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 53% - 24th out of 30 train companies

South Western Railway (SWR) isn’t the worst-rated train company on our list, but it comes close to the bottom of our commuter and leisure tables.

SWR scored poorly with both commuters and leisure travellers for punctuality, reliability and value for money.

Three in ten of its commuters in our survey highlighted a worsening service since the new franchise took over in August 2017.

Commuter customer score – 34% - 29th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score – 43% - joint 29th out of 30 train companies

Ranked joint bottom by leisure travellers, with a customer score of 43%, and second from the bottom by commuters, with 34%, Southern Railway didn’t fare much better than our worst-rated train company, Northern.

Southern scored just one star for punctuality and reliability when rated by commuters and leisure travellers.

Value for money was also poorly rated, as was customer service. The best thing about Southern, according to its commuters, is the amount of standing space in the carriages, for which they gave it three stars.

Commuter customer score: 60% - joint 5th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 61% - joint 8th out of 30 train companies

The Stansted Express runs between London Liverpool Street station and Stansted Airport, and is claimed to complete the journey in 47 minutes.

For both commuter and leisure services, it received four or five stars across the board in our survey.

Commuters who have used this service rated it highly for its seat availability, resulting in a five-star rating. They gave it four stars for punctuality, frequency and value for money.

Leisure passengers were a little less glowing about seat availability, but still positive, awarding four stars: good news for those of us who want to sit down after lugging a heavy suitcase around.

Commuter customer score: 50% - joint 16th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 57% - 19th out of 30 train companies

TfL Rail runs services from Liverpool Street through to Shenfield, stopping at 12 stations along the way. These include Brentwood, Romford and Stratford. It also recently replaced Heathrow Connect, running services from Heathrow Terminal 4 to Paddington.

In our survey of commuters, TfL Rail earned no more than three stars for any element of travel – and received two stars for seat availability, reliability and customer service.

Leisure passengers were even less positive about customer service, giving the company just one star. Again, no rating is above three stars.

Commuter customer score: 36% - 28th out of 30 train companies 

Leisure customer score: 48% - 28th out of 30 train companies

Much like Northern and Great Northern, Thameslink spent part of 2018 badly affected by the May timetable-chaos disruption. Train travellers told us they experienced unprecedented delays.

It’s perhaps no wonder, then, that Thameslink sits third from the bottom in our league tables of commuter and leisure train services, with customer scores of 36% and 48% respectively.

Commuters awarded it just one star for punctuality and reliability. Customer service was poorly rated by commuters and leisure travellers alike, as was value for money.

The condition of the carriages was positively rated by commuters, though, with four stars.

Commuter customer score: 62% - joint 3rd out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 70% - 2nd out of 30 train companies

This is the main train service in Northern Ireland. It also crosses the border to stations in the Republic of Ireland (including Dublin).

It came third in our survey of commuters, who rated it highly for seat availability, punctuality, frequency, customer service and value for money.

For leisure services it came in second place, with five stars for value for money, customer service and punctuality.

Commuter customer score: 44% - 24th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 54% - 23rd out of 30 train companies

The TransPennine Express runs across the Pennines, which separate Manchester from Yorkshire. It covers as far west as Liverpool and as far south east as Nottingham, supplying links throughout Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Commuters gave TransPennine just one star for punctuality and a measly two stars for reliability, value for money and frequency. The condition of the carriages received the best score of three stars.

For leisure services it got mostly average scores, including for customer service, value for money and frequency. But it got just two stars for availability of seats and punctuality.

Commuter customer score: 57% - 11th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 65% - 5th out of 30 train companies

Virgin Trains runs services from London Euston and many other major terminals such as Birmingham New Street, Edinburgh and Liverpool Lime Street. Many of the routes include high-speed services.

In our survey of commuters, Virgin Trains received four stars for every aspect of travel, from seat availability and punctuality to condition of carriages and value for money.

Leisure passengers were more positive about certain elements, giving it five stars for carriage condition and customer service. In fact, Virgin Trains came fifth out of 30 train companies according to leisure passengers.

Commuter customer score: 52% - joint 14th out of 30 train companies

Leisure customer score: 58% - joint 16th out of 30 train companies

West Midlands Railway connects the Birmingham metropolitan area and the west of England.

It didn’t get higher than a three-star rating for any element of travel in our commuter survey, and got two stars for punctuality and customer service.

Leisure passengers gave West Midlands Railway four stars for value for money, but gave it the same two-star ratings as the commuters.

SHARE THIS PAGE