Transport: Rail firms `put customers last'

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The Independent Online
It is too easy for privatised rail companies to claim bonuses for good performance and too difficult for passengers to claim compensation for bad service, according to research published yesterday.

And privatisation has not rid the industry of the "customers last" philosophy which allegedly dogged the nationalised British Rail, says the Consumers' Association report Signal Failures - The Regulation of Rail.

Author Phil Evans calls for a new Strategic Rail Authority to act as an industry watchdog, saying the Passenger's Charter which is supposed to protect consumers' rights is seen by many as little more than a "pretty marketing tool". The report calls for simplified complaints procedures and an increase in compensation levels to reflect more fairly the discomfort and inconvenience caused to passengers by overcrowding, ageing rolling stock and inaccurate fare and timetable information.

And it criticises the massive incentive payouts made by the rail regulators, which last year paid train companies pounds 13.3m more in bonuses for punctuality and reliability than it took from them in fines for poor performance.