Small, unmanned stations with poor facilities are making passengers feel unsafe and putting them off taking the train, the National Audit Office says.
Lonely platforms make many passengers feel unsafe
A report by the public spending watchdog says things have improved at big stations and passenger information has got better.
But many commuters remain unhappy with small and medium-sized stations.
The Association of Train Operating Companies says many station improvement schemes have been announced recently.
It says it is working hard to encourage greater use of smaller stations in order to increase the chances of receiving investment.
The National Audit Office report says the poor state of stations is a major reason why so few passengers use them in the first place.
Its concerns include levels of vandalism and graffiti and lack of disabled access.
Unstaffed and partially-staffed stations monitored mainly by CCTV came in for the most criticism.
Anthony Smith, of the Rail Passengers Council, said the main problems were lack of car parking, fears over security and a lack of basic facilities such as toilets and waiting rooms.
He told BBC News: "A lot of passengers say to us that after dark, they feel very different at their local station. It's not the same feeling, there's less people around, it's not so light, obviously, so there is quite a lot of insecurity about it.
"It doesn't lead to complaints but it doesn't make people feel safe and it puts them off travelling after dark."
He added: "Passengers' priorities are quite clear. They want the trains to be safe and to run on time. That's the main priority.
"It's interesting, as the trains have become safer, and as they are running more on time, people's attention starts to turn to other things, like the stations, and they cannot be neglected for ever."
He called for a national strategy setting out where money was going to be spent and called for the rail industry to work harder to get money from the private sector, to help renovate stations.
The industry also needed to work more closely with community groups to deal with problems at specific stations, he said.
My local station is unmanned, but there is a well-lit waiting room, clean toilet, train announcements and a working public telephone. I feel safe here at all times and the trains are punctual. Where is this nirvana? It's rural Japan.
Judy O'Brien , Muroran, Japan
My local station, Leagrave, is very often unmanned and the ticket machine doesn't work, so I have found myself several times buying my ticket at my final destination! I never feel safe there, especially at night, and I certainly would never leave my car in the car park.
I have noticed in the last couple of weeks a police presence nearly every morning. I hope this is only to promote public confidence, but even if they are responding to a potential security threat, it's nice to see them there before it happens.
Lucie, Cheam, Surrey
My girlfriend and I were harassed by youths on the Motspur Park station in SW London. I wrote to the station owners afterwards and they referred me to the train operator. They proceeded to tell me to use the intercom system on the platform. Yeah right, like you would have the time to use this in front of menacing youths!
Steve, Motspur Park
Hayes & Harlington station is not staffed at night. Feral hooded youths from Hayes and the nearby YMCA frequent the station foyer most evenings harassing passengers, demanding money, selling and smoking drugs, and touting for tickets. The police have been informed many times but nothing has been done.
Chris, Hayes, Middlesex
On my first day at work after finishing university I was on a small unmanned station, which was quite a walk from the village centre waiting for a train home, with one other person. He was a young man, who proceeded to threaten me with an axe. There was no phone on the station and I had to run half a mile into the village to ring the police. By the time I got there and they had arrived, he was long gone. There is no way I would catch a train on my own from an unmanned station now, even in broad daylight.
Alexandra Lusby, Shrewsbury
I use a little train station called Wrabness. There's no ticket machine and no staff at all, but it's lovely. Someone has painted a mural on the wall of a 'country train station waiting bench scene' and the sound of the birds in the trees in the morning is pretty spectacular.
Matt Willis, Essex
Just a little paint and some disinfectant would go a long way. My local station looks an absolute state and it would not take much to make it look more cared for.
Mark Bournta, Carshalton
Spot on. The trains and service are really much better and I now use the train to work rather than the car. My local station is unstaffed and with few passengers I would not expect more. It is clean and tidy with a shelter and they do put up hanging baskets.
David, Chiworth, Surrey
Kentish town overground station is not pleasant. Like a lot of the smaller Thameslink stations, the staff presence seems minimal and the platforms isolated and lonely. I certainly feel more vulnerable as a result and would like to see more staff patrolling the platforms.
James Shackley, London
Rowley Regis is the station where I catch the train to work every day. There is now a massive car park but only about six seats on the platform. The only other place to wait is in the ticket office so if a train came you would have to run very quickly to catch it. But the main problem is lack of communication as they never tell you when trains are due, cancelled, late etc. If you go back up to the ticket office to find out you risk missing your train. There are no toilets and no payphone and there ought to be because it is an extremely busy station.
Sue, Halesowen, West Mids
My local station is Slough. The ticket office is so poorly manned and the machine is so often out of order that I have on occasion had to drive into London having first attempted to take the train because I have been unable to get a ticket. The station is not a nice place to be in the evening. They have security staff, but they act more like nightclub bouncers.
Kay, Windsor, UK
There are many stations such as Clifton Down in Bristol where the former station building has been sold off for other uses - in this case as a pub. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the doors and windows facing the platform are then invariably bricked up. So while passengers are standing on a gloomy and deserted platform in the evening, just through the wall is a bustling pub whose staff and customers could keep an eye on what's happening on the station if the windows were opened up again.
Graeme Bell, Bristol
I use a smallish station serving a town on the main line from Waterloo. The station has been run down to the bare minimum of staff and facilities. There are now no toilets or telephone, though there used to be both; the waiting room is locked very often, and the booking office rarely manned. There is a spacious flat over the booking office but Network Rail won't rent it out at a reasonable rate, so it is empty and boarded up. The result is that half of the town's crime is accounted for by vandalism at the railway station. No genius is needed to see that offering a cheap flat to the booking clerk and his family would provide much needed accommodation, and improve security to the extent that the closed-down facilities could be re-opened.
N. Smith, UK
I travelled by train to work for about a week because my car broke down. The station I had to use was particularly deserted and on one afternoon I was approached on the platform by a man who tried to strike up a conversation and then proceeded to 'flash'. Luckily I was saved by the train arriving at very opportune moment. This happened in full daylight. I reported this to the railway police as it was clear that this man had been waiting for victims but, disappointingly, there was really no interest. I realise that I was fine but his next victim might not have been so lucky.