The Public And Privatised Rail

After 10 years of privatised rail, the British public are still to be convinced that a train journey is better value for money or safer than under British Rail. New research[1] from Ipsos MORI shows that half (52%) of British people say they have a favourable view of the rail sector as a whole, while 30% are unfavourable. As National Passenger statistics show the highest level of customer satisfaction since Hatfield, in terms of the overall quality of the service, more than a quarter (28%) feel the service is better now than when it was nationalised compared to one in five (21%) who feel it is worse.

The Public And Privatised Rail

After 10 years of privatised rail, the British public are still to be convinced that a train journey is better value for money or safer than under British Rail. New research[1] from Ipsos MORI shows that half (52%) of British people say they have a favourable view of the rail sector as a whole, while 30% are unfavourable. As National Passenger statistics show the highest level of customer satisfaction since Hatfield, in terms of the overall quality of the service, more than a quarter (28%) feel the service is better now than when it was nationalised compared to one in five (21%) who feel it is worse.

But a greater percentage disagree than agree that the rail network is safer now than it was before privatisation (45% compared to 24%). The research also reveals that a majority (56%) do not think a rail journey today offers better value for money than under British Rail.

Looking back on 10 years of privatised rail, Ipsos MORI's head of transport research, Carole Lehman, says: "What passengers want is reliable clean trains. Since Hatfield, reliability has been poor, so it is no wonder that the public were unhappy with the rail service. However things are at last getting better, satisfaction is back to pre-Hatfield levels and the investment that many train operators have put in updating their rolling stock is at last showing dividends. But be warned, now that reliability has been tackled, the public are now turning their attention to the cost of travelling by rail. On the safety agenda, good news if often overlooked, and the message on safety does not seem to be getting across."

When the British rail network was privatised in the 90s, the Government of the day said it was the best way to provide much needed investment. Research conducted by MORI among rail passengers in 1991[2] revealed some recognised potential benefits in privatisation — 30% thought efficiency would improve if British Rail were privatised (compared to 7% who thought it would get worse), 22% thought there would be an improvement in how it was managed (again with 7% who thought it would get worse) and 24% thought there would be an improvement in overall quality of service (against 9% who thought it would get worse). In terms of safety, there was more of an even split — 17% expected an improvement compared with 16% who expected safety to get worse.

By 1993[3], the year parliament passed the rail privatisation bill, half of British people (52%) opposed plans to allow private companies to run passenger trains on the British Rail network, with just a third (31%) supporting the plans.

Last year (Winter 2005) we asked MPs for their views on a number of different industries, and only 35% said they had a favourable view of the rail industry, compared to 38% who said their view was unfavourable. Transport journalists are also more likely to take an unfavourable view of rail in Great Britain — 57% unfavourable compared with 30% favourable. However regarding safety issues, the majority of MPs (72%) believe the quality of track is better now than at the time of privatisation and 69% feel the railway is also safer now.

Technical details

  1. Fieldwork conducted between 27-29 January 2006. 1,010 people were interviewed by phone, representative of GB.
  2. A representative sample of 1,846 adults aged 15+ were interviewed in 145 constituencies between 27 August and 1 September 1991. All interviews were conducted face-to-face and were weighted to reflect the known profile of the GB population.
  3. A sample of 884 people aged 18+, representative of Great Britain, were interviewed between 20-24 May 1993.

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