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Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 08:55 GMT


Rail woes increase

Rail passengers' complaints are on the increase

Complaints about Britain's railways are up by more than 100,000 - a rise of nearly a quarter - figures released on Wednesday show.

Rail regulator Chris Bolt said 540,000 complaints were made in the six months to October 1998, compared compared with 435,000 during the same period the previous year.

The BBC's Transport Correspondent Simon Montague: Rail complaints up to 540,000
The increase is being blamed partly on the performance of the 25 rail operators. Last week, the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (Opraf) revealed the performance of many train operating companies was getting worse.

But it is also being put down to new arrangements which make it easier for passengers to complain about problems in the service.

Mr Bolt welcomed efforts by the rail operators to make it easier for passengers to register their comments and complaints, but said it was important that any grievances were dealt with promptly and efficiently.

A small number of train operating companies had provided an "unacceptable level" of performance in replying to complaints, he said.

Mr Bolt said: "Making it easy for passengers to make complaints may well encourage them to register their comments on operators' services.

"This is not something to be afraid of, and those operators who have taken actions to improve their accessibility are to be applauded."

Wednesday's figures, issued in the second edition of the Rail Complaints Bulletin, were greeted with caution by John Carter, acting national director of the Central Rail Users Consultative Committee.

He said he was "not convinced" that simpler complaints procedures were responsible for the rise.

Mr Carter said: "Despite the action plans required by the Franchising Director, there is still no sign of any real upturn in performance.

"The customer satisfaction surveys published by Opraf last week told their own sorry tale and today's figures merely add further confirmation.

"It seems that the five largest increases in complaints to particular train operators correlate with those companies' performance reported in the Bulletin last week by Opraf."

Mr Carter listed the five companies registering most increases in complaints as First North Western Trains (158%), LTS Rail (137%), Cardiff Railways (128%), Chiltern Railways (95%), and Silverlink Train Services (73%).

He added: "It really is high time for the industry as a whole to identify the causes of poor performance which are driving this level of complaints. Action needs to be taken now."

Later this week, the train industry will face what is expected to be a stormy public meeting with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

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