The YouGov research found that one in five Londoners had suffered discrimination or abuse while travelling, compared with one in 10 nationally.
One in four or 25 per cent of Londoners said they had witnessed another passenger being targeted with abuse – compared with 15 per cent nationally.
Stuart Meek, chief operating officer at South Western Railway, said the figures were “shocking and unacceptable”. SWR has launched an All Aboard campaign that encourages passengers to report the incidents.
Mr Meek said: “While the vast majority of customers have uneventful journeys, this polling shows that one in five Londoners have been subjected to discrimination or abuse by a fellow passenger on the railway, and one in four have witnessed it.”
It comes after separate research found an increase in assaults on Network Rail staff in its Southern region.
Almost every member of staff who was surveyed said they had been the victim of verbal abuse, while three in 10 had been physicaly assaulted and four in 10 racially abused. One in 10 said they had suffered abuse of a sexual nature, including groping or lewd comments.
Sam Chessex, Network Rail’s director of stations, said: “We know most of our passengers wouldn’t dream of behaving like this, but the statistics don’t lie. If you can’t treat our people with respect, we will be pursuing prosecutions.”
Haffif Asunramu, a former customer service assistant at London Bridge, who now works as a revenue protection officer at the station, was spat at during the covid lockdown.
A colleague, Mike Ezra, a customer service assistant, was threatened on a night shift and thought he was going to be stabbed.
“I had to take time off work because I was genuinely scared for my life.,” he said. “I didn’t know if he was going to come back.”
The SWR survey found that a majority of passengers were unclear how to report incidents. More than half of Londoners surveyed said they did not believe any report would be followed up.
Incidents can be reported by texting the British Transport Police (BTP) on 61016 or calling 999 in an emergency. Reports to BTP can also be made using the Railway Guardian app.
Mr Meek said: “Our All Aboard campaign is all about raising awareness of how to report incidents and making it clear that reports will be taken seriously, so we can get to a point where no one faces discrimination or abuse on the railway.”
SWR began trialling body-worn cameras for guards, customer service assistants, rail community officers and revenue protection in 2021. They are now in use at more than 30 locations.
Rail minister Huw Merriman said: “Passenger safety is my top priority and everyone should be able to go about their journeys in peace.
“While incidents of abuse and discrimination are rare, it’s reassuring to see operators like South Western Railway highlight some of the challenges faced and the steps being taken to tackle them.”