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Navigating the turbulent railways of 2023 and the impact on UK businesses

James Rentoul Director 06/22/2023

Disruption on the railways has rarely been far from the headlines in 2023. Industrial action, engineering work, cancellations or unforeseen mechanical failures have become the norm, leaving few smooth journeys in the UK.

More than half (56%) of business decision-makers disagree that this year's 5.9% rise in national rail fares is justified.

As well as impacting people’s ability to get from A to B, there are clear economic consequences of this disruption. Earlier this year, strike action was estimated to have cost the UK more than £1bn, a figure which has only increased since then. Savanta’s research for the Department for Transport on the impact of rail strikes in 2022 found that 29% of all respondents – and 47% of those who had planned to travel during a strike week – had faced work disruptions.

But what does this mean for UK businesses on a practical level, when disruption hits the rail network?

We used the Savanta Business Tracker to find out, surveying over a thousand UK business leaders from small, medium and large firms.

Impact of rail disruption

We found that rail disruption has a significant, tangible impact on firms across the country. Half of all UK businesses (49%) say that poor reliability and punctuality of commuter train services in the UK negatively impacts their business performance. More specifically, between a quarter and a third of businesses say that – at least once a month – their firm is affected by delays, cancellations or overcrowding on trains causing:

  • Staff being late for work (32%);
  • Staff being unable to come to work at all (27%);
  • Cancelled meetings or fewer customers (25%).

This isn’t an occasional annoyance either. Around one in ten say that each of these events affect their business at least once a week.

Only two in five business decision-makers say they have never been impacted by each of the above in the last 12 months.

Given the business challenges of rail disruption, more than half (56%) of business decision-makers disagree that this year’s 5.9% rise in national rail fares is justified.

What do businesses want?

Rail disruption is clearly causing headaches for UK businesses. It is not just another item in their inbox; it directly impacts productivity and sales causing concern for industry leaders, amidst wider economic challenges like inflation, and reduced consumer spending.

Against this background, there is a strong call for government intervention where services are not up to scratch. Two-thirds of UK business leaders support local mayors being able to take over underperforming rail services in their areas (64%), or the Government transferring control of more suburban rail services from private operators to city regions (67%). Barely one in five oppose either statement.

While it is not a foregone conclusion that the public sector would be able to run rail services any better, there is clear support for the Government taking decisive action when rail services are not up to scratch. Until the disruptions faced by businesses are effectively addressed, this sentiment is unlikely to fade away.


At Savanta, we understand the challenges that businesses face in today’s rapidly evolving economy, and possess in-depth knowledge of the rail sector and its issues.

That’s why we offer valuable insights to clients in the rail sector, and the wider business community, to help you navigate changes, support clients and drive the success of your campaigns. To learn more or speak with one of our experts, click here.

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