East Anglia: National Express fails to satisfy rail passengers

PASSENGERS using National Express trains in East Anglia feel they get the worst deal in Britain in terms of value for money.

And the company has one of the lowest satisfaction ratings overall.

Only 35% of the National Express East Anglia passengers surveyed by official watchdog Passenger Focus felt the company offered good value for money.

That is the lowest figure in the country – the next lowest is First Capital Connect which runs services from Cambridge and Peterborough into London Kings Cross station.

The Passenger Focus survey revealed that 79% of passengers of National Express East Anglia were satisfied, or found their journey “good”. Only First Capital Connect, with 76% of passengers satisfied, had a lower figure.

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Andrew Chivers, managing director, National Express East Anglia, said: “We are determined to improve customer satisfaction and the �1million new investment we announced last December to provide better information provision, more customer service staff and train cleaners at key locations, underlines our commitment to deliver further improvement.

“This investment was announced after this latest Passenger Survey had taken place, and is helping us to focus even more on the key areas within the survey where our customers tell us they would like to see better service.

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“In addition to this investment, our December 2010 timetable is providing more seats at peak times on our mainline services.

“Together, these improvements will enable us to carry over 11,000 extra passengers into London at peak times every weekday from December 2011.

“We are also working on a number of station redevelopments and providing more car parking at key locations as part of our focus on meeting our customers’ expectations for service improvement.”

National Express East Anglia spokesman Peter Meades said he did not think the issue of value for money only referred to the cost of tickets.

He said the line was primarily a commuter line, and most commuters wanted clean, reliable trains and a seat for their journey.

These were issues that the company had struggled with at times – often because of matters outside its control such as over-running engineering works – but it was now addressing the issues.

Almost 31,000 passengers responded to the survey between September and November last year. National Express was told its franchise was not going to be renewed but it has since been granted two extensions to operate services until February 2012.

Guy Dangerfield, who covers East Anglia for Passenger Focus, said the cost of tickets was an element when the “value for money” issue was judged, but accepted there were other areas which also contributed to travellers’ perception.

He said: “Two key elements are punctuality and the flow of information to passengers, especially when things go wrong.

“We have been urging National Express to take action on these and the message has been getting across.”

So far as the overall travel experience is concerned, Mr Dangerfield agreed that the two top priorities for commuters were arriving on time and being able to get a seat on their train and he hoped that the action taken by National Express would help with these issues.

Neil Skinner, chairman of the Manningtree Rail Users’ Association, said: “I think it is a fair representation of how commuters feel. I think we all pay too much for our train fares across the country but you at least expect a reasonable service and, on this line, you often don’t get that.”

He admitted that the delays are often the result of poor infrastructure, which is outside of NXEA’s remit but called on them to improve cleanliness of trains, communication and the standard of customer service – describing all three areas as “pretty shocking”.

The EADT investigated the cost of rail tickets from towns and cities a similar distance from London to Ipswich.

Southampton and Northampton both offered considerably cheaper “walk on” off-peak tickets to the capital, but they are not served by “InterCity” trains.

Swindon, which does have an InterCity service, is more expensive.

However, passengers from both Ipswich and Swindon are able to find cheaper deals if they book in advance and commit themselves to travelling on specific services.

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