Are Northumberland's train passengers happy with the service they receive?
Virgin Trains East Coast had one of the highest rates of passenger complaints in the country over last summer, according to the latest figures from the regulator.
Figures from the Office for Road and Rail show that between July and September last year the train operator had a rate of complaints of 142.2 for every 100,000 people who travelled.
This was up on the same period in 2016 when it was 66.4 for every 100,000.
The ORR said that reporting issues at Virgin Trains East Coast mean that the rate of complaints may be higher and the train operator was dealing with a backlog of complaints.
Nationally, the rate of complaints across all rail franchise holders was 28.7 per 100,000 passengers, down by 2.2% for the quarter compared to the same period in 2016.
The two other operators who serve the Northumberland stations of Berwick, Alnmouth and Morpeth had differing experiences in the same period.
Northern received 18.2 complaints for every 100,000 passengers, up on 15.5 in summer 2016. CrossCountry received slightly fewer complaints than the previous year – 56.8 for every 100,000 passengers, compared to 59.9 in 2016.
Across the country, passenger concerns included late or unreliable services, ticketing policies, poor facilities on trains, and being forced to stand. At Virgin Trains East Coast, the largest number of complaints were about facilities on board; for the other two operators, it was punctuality of trains.
Virgin Trains East Coast dealt with 94% of complaints within 20 days. The target is to deal with 95% of complaints within that time. Northern’s figure was 97% and CrossCountry 100%.
But a follow up survey commissioned by the ORR found that 69% of people were unhappy with the outcome of their Virgin complaint, compared with 73% for Northern and 43% for CrossCountry.
A Virgin Trains spokesman said: “We welcome feedback from our customers as it helps us identify any problems with our services and quickly put them right. Complaint statistics are not the best way to measure passenger satisfaction and in the most recent independent survey by the industry watchdog, Transport Focus, over 91% of Virgin Trains customers rated us as providing a good service.”
A spokesperson for CrossCountry said: “We know our customers want a comfortable seat on a punctual and reliable train. We work hard with our industry partners to deliver improving performance, and currently average around nine out of ten trains arriving on time, and since December we have been providing two extra trains each day at Morpeth.”
A spokesman for Northern said: “We are committed to addressing all customer complaints and firmly believe feedback is vital if we are to continue to improve the service we offer.
“We are less than two years into a nine-year franchise with a modernisation plan that, by 2020, will transform rail travel for our customers. We are investing in new trains, enhancing our existing trains and modernising stations to add capacity and improve the journey experience for all customers.”
Most complaints are made by email or an online form. Complaints received via social media are not counted in these statistics as the operators have different ways of dealing with comments on social platforms.