Freight customer survey 2009


The survey was conducted in the autumn of 2009 as part of our focus on the needs of passengers and freight customers in order to provide ORR with information about current levels of freight customer satisfaction and help us understand how our regulatory policies and decisions are impacting on the end-user.

The survey sought information from freight customers in four main areas:

  • current modal choice;
  • trends and influencing factors;
  • industry performance; and
  • ORR's role and performance.

Two similar surveys were published in 2000 (National Survey of Rail Freight Users: Summary of Results) and 2003 (Rail Freight Survey Report).


This section provides a summary of some of the key findings from the survey:

  • Use of modes - respondents to the survey indicated that their use of rail increased significantly over the last five years. While the current economic climate has depressed the freight market generally, it appears from respondents that rail has been less affected than other modes and there is potential for further growth if the market can deliver against key customer requirements;
  • Service attributes - when asked to rate different service quality attributes in terms of importance and performance, overall, price was identified as the most important service quality attribute, followed by responsiveness to customer needs and reliability of service/journey time. However, although these attributes are seen by customers as the most important, they rank relatively low in the list by performance. It is this variance between expectation and performance delivery that marks these attributes out as key areas for service improvements;
  • Satisfaction with industry - respondents were asked to indicate the level of contact they have had with various freight industry organisations and their level satisfaction with them. Generally, there was a high level of satisfaction (around 74% on average being either very satisfied or quite satisfied) with the freight industry organisations with which respondents were in regular contact – a significant increase on the satisfaction levels recorded in the 2003 survey;
  • Satisfaction with ORR - the level of contact that respondents had with ORR was relatively low, and tended to be in connection with specific issues or policies. However, nearly half (46%) of the survey respondents were either very satisfied or quite satisfied with ORR's performance, with a further 48% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

    With regard to things that ORR has done well, respondents were supportive of ORR's role in reducing access charges through the 2008 periodic review, delivering improved capacity and safety.

    When asked what ORR could do more of, or do better, respondents pointed to specific areas for improvement, such as the 'slow and ineffective' transfer of access rights. There were also a number of comments suggesting that, in the future, ORR could facilitate improvements in the rail network, such as gauge enhancements, more terminals, streamlined train pathing administration, ensuring freight operators are treated fairly, improving cost transparency and assisting with information on the use of the network.

  • Competition - more than four fifths of respondents thought that it is very or fairly important to have a choice of rail freight service provider, recognising the importance of this in driving down prices and improving service quality.

Further work

The survey has provided a useful indication of the issues that are important to freight customers.

We are already addressing a number of these issues, such access to facilities, capacity, greater flexibility and competition through workstreams which are set out in our business plan for 2010-11, and include:

  • a comprehensive review of access policy and planning (including a particular focus on how the industry framework can better facilitate the transfer of access rights);
  • two market studies: a rail freight study that is reviewing the key drivers of growth and main obstacles to growth potential – looking at the impact of competition (and blockages to competition) between train operators on rail markets; and, allied to this, a review of freight sites assessing ownership and train operation and the effect this might have on freight markets and the ability of freight customers choose between rail freight hauliers;
  • consulting on our proposed freight facility access exemptions policy to ensure that our regulatory approach supports effective competition in the freight market, testing the findings of a research market study into rail freight facilities at ports and terminals; and
  • developing freight customer access contracts – we have reviewed the track access arrangements which affect freight customers and have identified ways in which we consider these arrangements could be developed to facilitate freight customers holding and managing their own track access rights.

The findings from this survey will also feed into and inform our work going forwards and we intend to carry out two further surveys over the course of our corporate strategy 2009-14 so that we can:

  • measure customer satisfaction in light of developments in rail freight, and assess the extent to which our policies continue to be relevant to those developments; and
  • help us understand how our regulatory policies and decisions are impacting on the end-user, and to respond accordingly.