Management of UK Rail Industry 3000 words

Service Management in the UK railway Industry: Complaint management / consumer satisfaction

Service Delays and Costs after 2010 in the UK railway industry




This essay explores the reasons behind poor complaint management and consumer satisfaction in the UK railway industry. The UK railway Industry has not always had the best reputation for service management, due to its origins as a state owned enterprise until 1993, and then its subsequent privatization effected by the 1993 Act. After this change the last twenty years have seen a lot of criticisms against the institution which is said to suffer from irregular service and reliability patterns due to the many and multifarious main contractors and subcontracting companies which have taken charge of the different routes and operations (Wolmar, 2002). This is one reason, which can be put forward for the not so uniform response of consumer satisfaction for the UK railway industry, as it is not one whole institution but an amalgamation of different companies operating across different routes. In addition to this the UK railways was until recently regulated by a very lax system of legislation and the transport policy was not very conducive here to encouraging good service management and quality industrial practices in order to enhance consumer satisfaction (Wolmar, 2001). For the same reason the last twenty years have seen serious service management lapses in the UK railways institution in terms of serious accidents, security breaches, poor customer service performance, reduced reliability, delayed schedules and inefficient freight/passenger operations. In the recent years however the influence of the EU open access and vertical separation protocols and regulations have actually improved consumer satisfaction within the UK rail industry. However since the UK freight railway industry is more of a business-to-business concern, its discussion remains outside the ambit of this paper. The author seeks to focus more upon the concept of consumer satisfaction in the UK passenger railway sector.

History of Service Delays in the UK railway industry

While the post 1993 liberalization and privatization of the UK railway industry allowed it to be open to a more commercialized enterprise with a better legal, technical, operational and administrative infrastructure (Crozier, 2001). However the main hindrance to the achievement of proper service management within UK railways remains the lack of a clear separation in the policy and management of the operations and the infrastructure of this institution (Wolmar, 2005).

As a result of the above the consumer requirements for a reliable, cost effective and efficient UK passenger rail system have been jeopardized by complicated competition, irregular tariff hikes and the emergence of less sound private companies in the industry (Jacobby and Jaccard, 1981). An economic reason for the same maybe the inelastic demand for transport in the economy, which makes it less of an incentive for the government to focus upon improving consumer satisfaction in the Rail sector.

State of consumer satisfaction in the UK rail industry: Recent developments Post 2010 A review of the “Service Delays”

One of the main reasons which are cited for an over all lack of consumer satisfaction in the railway sector in the last two decades is simply the disagreements which emerge between the labor/union lobbies, government departments and from the companies involved. The consumer who is the main beneficiary of this service is often ignored in the banter on dominance, costs and fare increases (Oliver, 1989). There has also been a clear disagreement amongst the government departments of transport, the private companies and the labor unions about who should take the responsibility for health and safety and maintenance of the services, in a situation where work has been allocated or subcontracted to too many companies. In 2003 the Network Rail Company (owned by the state) resolved the matter taking over maintenance of the railway services (BBC News, 2003).

The subsequent bankruptcy of a popular railway franchise, namely GNER, which went into bankruptcy protection after huge payment defaults had many lessons for how the UK railway industry handled their service management. For the same reason in 2006 there was a major criticism about the scattered, complex and fragmented nature of the UK rail franchising policy which was not cost efficient and operated at the cost of passenger satisfaction (BBC News, 2006). Most of these problems came around when the firms offering to pay a lot of money for the franchises actually ran short of funds to ensure timely services for the passengers. Even though it is debatable that franchising rail services into the private sector should have brought about certain improvement in services and therefore within better complaint management and reduction procedures, the practical outcome for the same was overbidding on behalf of the private owners leading to certain bankruptcy in the end (ibid). The near collapse of GNER back in 2006 meant that the services between the main cities of UK like London and the routes towards northeast England would be severely jeopardized if the government had not intervened with a 1.3 billion subsidy over the decade of its operations. The GNER railway was also criticized for passing over the price of its faltering operations by cutting service levels and hiking fares or premiums on the service. The same has led to lax service, faltering investment and the lack of technological innovations, which would reduce delays in service (ibid).

The railway system and its operations have also often labeled as unsustainable for the end-user by its critics (Sandblom, 1996). Even though the UK railway industry has been fast expanding into Europe through its ventures like Eurostar.This has also led to the criticisms against privatization not working practically to bring about more satisfied railway passengers. The takeover by Network Rail of the maintenance operations of most of the networks gave rise to concerns that the government was subtly trying to nationalize the UK railway industry again (Crozier, 2001) Such a move can be justified by stating that if the government were to take over, at least the network infrastructure of the same, there would be greater chances of ascertaining the responsible body for heath and safety matters and disruptions (ibid). The problem with the profit driven commercial entities running the railway franchises is that their concern with profit allows them to be less involved with the improvement of service routes and the infrastructure, which could make things more safe and convenient for the average everyday consumer (BBC News, 2002). Infact the price cuts and competition can make things difficult for those companies trying to run a quality service on small routes. This fact is obvious from the recent closure of the Wrexham and Shropshire Railway franchise, which had until now provided a service from Wrexham and Shropshire direct to London Marylebone since the year 2008 (BRI, 2011, 2011b). This closure is actually a glaring example of the how the greed for profits and privatization rat race has compromised quality in service management in the rail sector. This company had actually scored the highest UK ranking in a recent consumer /passenger satisfaction survey but could not compete in terms of the costs of operations against the Virgin Trains Group. The other problem this relatively small carrier faced was the biased competition policy of the industry which did not allow this company to go though the busy Wolverhampton and Birmingham New Street stations, due the reluctance of the rail regulation department to allow such a small company to disrupt the business of Virgin trains in that area (BRI, 2011). This led to a certain demise of a promising commercial company, which suffered from low profitability. This was an independent operator and its operations were well known for their high score on consumer satisfaction.

Technological developments and factors can play an important role in an industry’s approach to consumer management. More recently the problem of delays has been escalated by Acts of vandalism over the railway lines
(Wales Online (2011) which has led to a lot of service complaints and consumer dissatisfaction with the way security is being managed in this sector. A recent development on behalf of Network Rail has been the funding of a purpose-built police van with number recognition technology which will catch motorists breaking the by trying to cross the rail-lines and reduce the risks of accidents or delays.

It has been said by many commentators that the key to improved service management in the UK Railway industry is to separate the management of track from the ordinary train operations. This would allow the same to be based upon the model of air transport where the infrastructure, technical and operational concerns are dealt with differently (Woolmar , 2001,2002,2005). The slow down in consumer satisfaction and efficient operations comes from the multifunctional nature of the network, being made worse by the lack of any policy accommodating independent operators, which can actually bring about a positive difference with in service management in the UK railway industry (ibid).

The other bad news for British rail consumers today is the 46% increase in rail fares since the 2nd of January 2011, which, it is anticipated, barely justifies the costs and inconvenience of traveling by train for the average UK consumer (BRI, 2011, 2011a). This has been known as yet another atrocity of the privatization of the transport industry where as the new coalition government gave the operators a free hand in increasing the fares without putting a restriction cap on the increase or even considering whether the increase can be justified at all in the light of the current muddle of the service management situation, the UK railways are in.

Discussion of the Service Delays and Costs

The over all state of the UK railway sector can thus be summed up in the following paragraphs.

  • First of all contrary to what had been hoped after the 1993 privatization, there has been a less than anticipated improvement in the customer service on these railways. This was evident from the aftermath of the Hatfield rail accident in the year 2000 which meant that since many technicians and drivers had been made voluntarily redundant in the wake of the privatization measures, the rail services were hopeless suspended for a long time leaving passengers at a massive unease (Wolmar, 2005).
  • The train operating companies were initially regulated by the government to give service quality for the fares they were charging, however the basic elements of the timetable went unregulated and the discount fares for the regular consumers were also unregulated. Furthermore the average fare prices have changed very little for the ordinary man at a point when the walk in fares with in the expensive urban routes like central London is mostly expensive (BRI, 2011). The routes remain a source of high expense for the middle class person seeking to take a journey from that area.
  • Also so far the lack of competition in service quality and class travel has not emerged as expected and hoped for in the beginning mainly because of the lack of essential infrastructure that would promote the railways as a source of tourism and economical travel (Woolmar, 2005). The government however made an effort to give incentives to the train operating companies to make the purchase of new trains more attractive, as opposed to old refurbished trains. Again the problem was cost as the prices and inconvenience was passed on to the ordinary consumer (ibid). There was also a decrease and downsizing in the rolling stock manufacture, which meant that the increased demand in new trains could not be met immediately causing more inconvenience to the end user in the early one decade of the privatization (ibid).


Other factors which have contributed to Service Delays and Costs

In addition to the above factors, the punctuality and reliability of the train service, which forms the pith and substance of consumer satisfaction in the rail sector, has not increased at all according to the recent consumer surveys, industry criticisms and news reports. There has been no evidence of the expected improvement in good complaint management and consumer satisfaction by the proper incentivisation of the train operators to run more cost effective schedules, which will benefit the ordinary daily commuter. The post Hatfield disruption caused a lot of problems with delays and schedules of daily commuters and the commercially drive operators were not able to do much here in terms of bringing in quick and efficient alternative routes for the general public.

Another issue that forms the frontier of consumer satisfaction in the UK industry is the perception of safety and health amongst the local commuters as well as the tourists that come in, hoping to travel across the UK through the railway network. Until date there have been four serious rail accidents casting doubts on the availability of good service on stations as well as the security measures therein. These accidents were in South hall (1997), Ladbroke Grove (1999), Hatfield (2000) and Potters Bar (2002)) chronologically and decreased significant, public confidence in the safety and service management of the railway industry. All four accidents had massive fatalities and injuries and occurred due to the negligence of the track authorities in preventing cars from crashing into the high-speed trains (Woolmar, 2005). Other reasons cited were the failure of the maintenance of the rails and the service stations.

Another reason for the poor state of the rail consumer in the UK is the historical preference of the UK government and the financial focus on road transport. One criticism has thus also been the lack of state interest in promoting competition and good infrastructure in the rail sector, which would become the breeding ground for better service delivery with in the sector. Furthermore the scattered nature of the investment even post the 1993 period meant simply that the British Rail (the state owned sector of the UK railways) was making decisions where to invest and where not to invest. Most of the state funds were then spend on the discretion of the national career, without advice or input from the majority private operators, which operated the industry.

Despite the takeover of service management and maintenance of the rail networks of the industry by Rail track in the wake of the Hatfield disaster in 2000, there was evidence of unspecialized and inefficient planning in the new tracks and substandard maintenance of the railway carriages.


The way forward for UK railways in the matter of consumer satisfaction

In the recent years things have however picked up in terms of the rail sector service management due to a more balanced approach to the public-private partnerships where the appropriate level of skill and funding from sides has actually caused the beginning socially desirable practices with in the UK railways, a good example of which can be said to be the Intercity, Network South East, and Regional Railways (Euro Star Casestudy, 2011). The staff wages and the cost of compliance with the new health and safety standards remains a continuing cause for more people opting for road transports. While there have been less financially troubled companies in the privatized UK railway sector recently the example of Euro star is one good example of a public private partnership for a more satisfactory and efficient rail service between Europe and the UK (ibid). The service like the other UK train operator Heathrow express has done well in the complaint management and consumer satisfaction arena by encouraging online assessments of train drivers and duty managers to better estimate consumer satisfaction from the journeys. Training programs especially in the matter of health and safety for the frontline training staff generally follow these assessments where safety remains a critical issue during daily operations (ibid). Another issue related to safety is of course terrorism where there is a danger that too rigid and inconvenient security checks can cause service delays. This is evident from the crash at the Kings Cross station, which later caused the security checks at all rail, and tube stations cause a lot of time being wasted in ensuring no security breaches occurred again.

Once again the paradigm of consumer satisfaction is deeply related to how the UK railways aims to invest in training and staff competencies and assessments to make the whole experience of journeys, better, more economic, safer and perhaps enjoyable for the tourists and the daily commuters alike in these networks. Many trains operators like the Heathrow express are also trying to upgrade their consumer satisfaction systems by simply making their ticketing and schedule operations more accessible to the public through IT expenditure. This will also promote tourism, which is a major source of revenue to Britain, and also make the daily life of the regular commuter less tedious, expensive and definitely safer.




















References: books and journals

Jacoby, J, Jacquard, J. (1981), “The sources, meaning and validity of consumer complaint behavior: a psychological analysis”, Journal of Retailing, Vol. 57 pp.4-24.

Oliver, R.L (1989), “Processing of the satisfaction response in consumption: a suggested framework and research propositions”, Journal of Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, Vol. 2 pp.1-16.

  1. Crozier. ‘Why British rail privatization has failed’. Publication of the libertarian alliance. 2001.
  2. Sandblom. ‘British Rail Sidetracked’. Adapted from the Swedish magazine TAG, 1996.

Wolmar, C (2001) Broken Rails: How Privatisation Wrecked Britain’s Railways

Wolmar, C (2002) Down the Tube: The Battle for London’s Underground

Wolmar, C (2005) On the Wrong Line: How Ideology and Incompetence Wrecked Britain’s Railways


Internet sources

Rail4all (2011) The organization of the privatized railway system in Britain

National Rail Trends Yearbook Publication of the Office of Rail Regulation, March 2006.

Local News (2011) Police crackdown on level crossing disruption in Surrey, 2:32pm Wednesday 9th February 2011


Wales Online (2011) Vandals blamed for train delays available at


Euro star Case study (2011) Euro star on track with revamped competency assessments: Company also increases training and coaching opportunities: Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 19 Iss: 1 pp: 29 – 31

BBC News (2002) Row erupts over UK rail criticism available at

BBC News (2002 a) Is UK transports the worst? Available at

BBC News (2003) Network Rail takes track back available at

BBC News (2006) MPs raise rail-franchising fears

British Rail Information (2011) Rail fares increase by up to 46% today

British Railway information (2011a) Wrexham and Shropshire Railways cease operations available at


Local News (2011) Police crackdown on level crossing disruption in Surrey, 2:32pm Wednesday 9th February 2011





Service Delays and Costs after 2010 in the UK railway industry



POST 2010

12011a) The organization of the privatized railway system in Britain

b) Rail fares increase by up to 46% today

c) Wrexham and Shropshire Railways cease operations available at


InternetBritish Rail Information (2011) Rail fares increase by up to 46% today

British Railway information (2011a) Wrexham and Shropshire Railways cease operations available at

Rail4all (2011) The organization of the privatized railway system in Britain



Degradation of service quality and management

Privatization and poor government regulation and investment

Service management

Complaint behavior


Local News (2011) Police crackdown on level crossing disruption in Surrey


Local News (2011) Police crackdown on level crossing disruption in Surrey, 2:32pm Wednesday 9th February 2011


Recent developments in the industry Service management
3 Wales Online (2011) Vandals blamed for train delays available at







Euro star on track with revamped competency assessments: Company also increases training and coaching opportunities: Human Resource Management



The gist of the item was that service delays on South Wales had been caused by acts of vandalism which damaged the copper cabling used for signals.




-Euro star Case study (2011) Euro star on track with revamped competency assessments: Company also increases training and coaching opportunities: Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 19 Iss: 1 pp:        29 – 31





Recent developments and technological reasons for poor consumer satisfaction














Consumer Satisfaction



Service management and technological factors