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Woman on Train using Phone

Survey reveals best and worst rail franchises for internet access

Woman on Train using Phone

Survey reveals best and worst rail franchises for internet access

A nationwide survey has ranked all of the UK’s rail transport firms in order of how satisfied their commuters are by the availability of the internet.

The study, conducted by Transport Focus, also revealed that internet connection is no trivial matter for public transport users – in fact, those aged 16 to 25 ranked it as the aspect they most want train companies to improve, with even punctuality less of an issue to them than the need to get online while on board.

Top of the pile was Heathrow Express. Nearly three quarters (71%) of passengers polled said they were satisfied with the reliability of the internet during their journey, which is perhaps not surprising given that the operator offers free 4G Wi-Fi and even on-board entertainment.

Grand Central came in second with a 68% satisfaction rating, and Hull Trains took third place with 61%. Chiltern Railways (51%) was the only other operator that managed to satisfy more than half of its web-accessing passengers.

At the bottom end, Southeastern and Great Northern jointly claim the wooden spoon, with only 18% of commuters expressing satisfaction at the levels of internet reliability. Meanwhile, Southern maintained its reputation of being something of a platform-to-platform party-pooper by finishing third from bottom with 22%.

Overall, passenger satisfaction came in at an average of 30% – a very disappointing return for a service described by Transport Focus head of policy Mike Hewitson as “essential and an expectation”.

The rail franchise businesses local to Engage Web will be most familiar with is Merseyrail, which also fared poorly, with only 24% happy with connection to the internet during their journeys.

Going off the tracks: a personal rant

As a regular Merseyrail commuter, I would have to say I am definitely in the dissatisfied 76%. Wi-Fi is only available in underground stations within the Liverpool Loop Line, and even then it’s slow, unreliable and awkward to log on to. Even using my own 4G, service is often intermittent when passing through rural areas like Hooton.

With train fares increasing way beyond inflation every year (3.4% for 2018), rail commuters are continually asked to stump up a bigger portion of their salary just to get to work in the first place. In return, I believe they are let down by shoddy service, poor communication and (as this survey shows) primitive and old-fashioned technology.

It is surely in the interests of the country to try and ease road congestion, but an attitude persists that rail operators are doing you a favour by providing you a with service at all, and the commuter often seems to be at the very bottom of a long list of people to keep happy. I am completely ground down by an ongoing dispute between Merseyrail and its guards that seems at complete loggerheads, the constant track renovations that lead to months of disruptions and don’t appear to solve anything, and internet connectivity that makes Wetherspoons Wi-Fi look like Silicon Valley.

Why on earth must it be this way? I suppose it’s what happens when there is no competition. It doesn’t matter to Merseyrail that Heathrow Express has much better internet, because I can’t use Heathrow Express to get to work. I have to use Merseyrail. For as long as railway lines remain privately owned by franchises, they will continue to prioritise anyone but the customer and there is no pressure on them to come out of the dark ages.

John Murray

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