Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Rail complaints hit one million
Richard Branson's Virgin Trains: In customers' line of fire
Passenger complaints to train companies reached the one million mark last year - with Virgin Trains receiving the most written moans.
Written and telephone complaints in the 12 months to March 1999 totalled 1,072,958 - an 8% rise on the 1997-98 figure, Rail Regulator Tom Winsor said.
Richard Branson's Virgin West Coast and Virgin CrossCountry companies, which offer pre-printed forms for passengers to register their protest, received the most written complaints.
The figures were made up of 737,331 written complaints and 335,627 telephone complaints.
"The rising trend of complaints is completely unacceptable," said Mr Winsor. "I believe many areas of passenger concern and complaints can, and should, be put right now.
"Passengers should not have to make continual complaints about matters which are simple and cheap to remedy."
Nearly 55% of the complaints were about train service performance, followed by the quality of service (11%) and fare retailing and refunds.
But the news was not all bad. The statistics showed that almost all train companies had improved the time they took to respond to complaints.
Seventeen out of the 25 companies sorted out more than 90% of cases within 20 working days and only two cleared up fewer than 70% within 20 working days.
The figures follow the announcement earlier this month that the main passenger watchdog body, the Central Rail Users Consultative Committee, had handled a record level of complaints in 1998-99.
The committee tends to be contacted when passengers have been dissatisfied with the response from a particular train company.
Mr Winsor said companies should pay more attention to customers' needs and make it easier for them to make a complaint.
George Muir, director of the Association of Train Operating Companies said they were investing in new trains, recruiting more drivers and working with other industry bodies.
"We are listening to our customers and we are determined to give them the service they want," he said.
"The increase in complaints has occurred in a period when more people are travelling and more trains are running than ever before. Train companies' top priority is to improve performance - an area which was responsible for 54% of all complaints."