Railway protests up 25% on year

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THE RAIL industry was warned yesterday it must reduce customer dissatisfaction after complaints soared by 25 per cent. Chris Bolt, the Rail Regulator, said 540,000 complaints were registered by the 25 companies from April to October 1998, compared with 435,000 in the similar period in 1997.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions said: "Train companies must listen to what their passengers are telling them and take action to reduce dissatisfaction."

Heavy pressure is now on the industry to present a concrete plan to improve performance at next Thursday's summit called by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister.

Jon Carter, acting national director of the Central Rail Users Consultative Committee, said the rise in complaints mirrored the failure to improve performance in train services.

The Association of Train Operating Companies said the regulator had recognised the increase in gripes was partly due to an improvement in complaint procedures. James Gordon, its director general, said: "The increasingly customer-focused train operators are very keen to have customers' comments."

The biggest increase in written complaints per number of miles travelled, 158 per cent, was at North West Trains. LTS Rail had a 137 per cent rise. Mr Bolt said LTS Rail resolved just 49 per cent of complaints within 20 working days.

There was a little good news for Virgin. Complaints on its flagship West Coast franchise between London and Glasgow fell 3 per cent. But Virgin had the most complaints, with 104,582 letters out of a total of 356,476 and 51,538 telephone protests out of 235,068.