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Passengers unhappy with delay info

Only a third of rail passengers are happy with the way their train company deals with delays or cancellations, according to a customer watchdog survey.

The survey, f rom Passenger Focus, showed that rail customers complained that information on Twitter was far more up to date than that provided by station staff.

One customer said: "I'd have liked an announcement from a human, rather than numbers on a board."

Another said: "Just the facts - the live departure information is often just a joke. Why cannot Southeastern be honest and just say 'no trains' rather than raising hopes."

One male passenger praised the way his delay had been handled, saying "The reason was given out quickly, and the journey was resumed with within a reasonable time. It seemed the railway company was doings its best to get things back to normal."

Passenger Focus was asked to carry out the survey by the Office of Rail Regulation, with the findings being sent to the train companies.

Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: "Despite improvements, it is clear that many passengers are still dissatisfied with the way the rail industry deals with delays.

"Passengers need information as quickly as possible - ideally before leaving home. Only 17% knew about the disruption before arriving at the station. Passengers now receive information from a range of sources, so train companies must ensure that staff at stations and on trains are ahead of the information game."

He went on: "Passengers need frank and honest messages that paint a realistic picture of the problems as they unfold. For instance, a fallen tree across a railway is just that, not an 'obstruction'. Passengers told the full reasons for the delay are likely to be less frustrated than those who are not.

"Passengers need train company staff to take ownership of the situation when delays occur. They should walk through trains to reassure passengers by apologising in person, answering questions and providing information about any compensation due."

Passenger Focus said the tone of announcements needed to signal that the train company was "on the passengers' side" and could be as important as the content of the messages.

Other recent Passenger Focus research has shown that this can enhance passengers' trust in train companies.

Michael Roberts, director general of the Rail Delivery Group which represents Network Rail and rail operators said: "Passengers are at the heart of what we do and we know they want the industry to provide them with clear, accurate and timely information so they can make informed journey choices.

"That is why we have worked hard to make improvements and are already committed to implementing many of the report's key recommendations.

"The regulator has welcomed the industry's commitment to improving communications with passengers during severe weather.

"The industry will shortly produce a revised plan that includes more prominent service information on websites, earlier notification of any changes to the following day's timetable and measures to boost awareness of how to claim compensation for delayed journeys."

The survey findings were based on responses from 1,020 passengers who had experienced a delay in the previous seven days.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) welcomed the commitment of the rail industry to improve passenger information during disruption.

The ORR said it expected train companies to provide accurate and timely information on train company websites as quickly as possible to allow customers to plan accurate or revised journeys; make announcements on how to claim compensation if the delay threshold of a train has been reached - with claim forms for compensation distributed on board trains and at stations where possible; make manual announcements with specific details of the disruption rather than automated ones; ensure all staff on platforms and trains have access to the latest information, which they can share with passengers; provide explanations on the cause of delay and any knock-on effects; and send automatic compensation alerts to passengers who have booked online if their trains were delayed.

The ORR said it would closely monitor the industry's progress and the pace of delivery against the action plan.

ORR's director of economic regulation John Larkinson said: "Passengers are telling us that they need information so they can plan ahead before they begin their journeys. They need to understand the impact of disruptions on their journeys before they get to a station, to be able to adapt their travel plans when things go wrong.

"Improvements have been made in the provision of information to passengers through the introduction of phone apps, better Twitter updates and by giving free access to real time information to app developers. However, more needs to be done.

"Once the industry has published its full action plan with clear dates and responsibilities for delivery, ORR will closely monitor the rail industry's progress against this - to ensure passengers are empowered with the right information during disruption."

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