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Grand Central, which operates rail services between London and the North East, came in for some criticism on this blog a few months ago for the shocking customer experience when attempting to book tickets online.

The company has now relaunched its booking engine so I've been trying it out to see if Grand Central has managed to make the site more usable than before.

The usability problems with the old site included:

A black background

This was a strain on the eyes when booking tickets, but Grand Central has sensibly dropped this in favour of a white background:

Grand Central

Slow loading

A big improvement here, while the previous version of the site used the same booking engine as thetrainline and could be very slow to load up journey times and prices, this new version loads almost instantly, and removes a potential source of frustration for customers.

Lack of contact details

Last time I used it, I had problems booking just a single ticket (which didn't happen this time around) and was looking for contact details. A contact number can be found from the homepage, but during the booking process, the only option you have in the help link which only gives you a contact form, which is totally inadequate if you are in the middle of booking and have a question that needs answering ASAP.

There is no reason why Grand Central couldn't simply display a contact number throughout the booking process; this would deal with any customer queries, as well as acting as a further sign of reassurance for customers who may not have booked trains on the site before.


The site is a big improvement on the previous version, and a number of small tweaks here and there have made a difference, though many are basics which any booking engine should have been doing anyway, such as auto-completing departure information:

A few more improvements are still needed though, such as directing users to the improved booking engine straight from the homepage, rather than having users start out with the old and inferior version of the 'buy tickets' form, and making it easier for customers to amend journey details during the booking process, but the updates, especially the increased speed of the site, have made a big difference.

Graham Charlton

Published 22 May, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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