Changing times – A decade of empirical insight into the experience of rail passengers in Great Britain

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - car, mode - rail, operations - crowding, place - europe, planning - service quality, planning - surveys, ridership - demand, ridership - growth, ridership - mode choice, ridership - perceptions, technology - intelligent transport systems


Travel time use, Passenger rail, Mobile technologies, ICTs, Travel experience


In the last decade the number of rail passenger journeys in Great Britain has increased by half and car trips per person are down by a tenth. Meanwhile there has been significant growth in internet use and ownership of smartphones. Travel patterns are changing in tandem with adoption of digital age innovations. At a time when Britain is also poised to invest tens of billions of pounds in high speed rail, this paper examines how the experience of rail passengers has changed from 2004 to 2014. It draws upon questions concerning travel time use designed by its first two authors that have been included in the National Rail Passenger Survey waves conducted in Autumn 2004, 2010 and 2014, yielding over 80,000 survey responses in total.

The data reveal an ongoing decline of paper-based materials accompanying travellers in the face of increasing adoption of digital alternatives. The latter can, for many, make their journey time experience better. However, the significant increase from 2004 to 2010 in the proportion of passengers considering their time use to have been very worthwhile has not continued on to 2014. This appears to be attributable (in part) to increased crowding and reduced passenger satisfaction associated with rising demand for rail travel. The paper sets out empirical insights, drawing them together in the form of a diagrammatic depiction of the interplay of factors involved in rail passenger experience. This depiction is then used to consider the implications for the future of rail travel. While mobile technologies appear to be placing more control of passenger experience in the hands of the passengers themselves, there remain important imperatives for the rail industry to support positive use of travel time.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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