Lets Get Back on Track - Commuter 1

Train is good for the brain! Academic research reveals that commuting by rail helps set you up for the workday by cutting through ‘brain fog’

  • New research from the rail industry and University College London (UCL) neuroscientists reveals that travelling by train offers psychological benefits for both wellbeing and brain function
  • People who use their commute to prepare for the day and mentally disengage from work on the way home can experience less stress, anxiety and improved productivity
  • Improved mental health (48%), work/life balance (46%), productivity (46%), motivation (47%) and fitness levels (51%) are some of the positive effects people are expecting to experience as they head back to their workplace
  • To inspire commuters to make the most of their ‘me-time’ on their train journey and get more from their commute, the rail industry is giving commuters access to hundreds of FutureLearn online courses with a free upgrade, hot drinks, tastecard memberships and exclusive discounts at nationalrail.co.uk/commuter

28 September, London: The rail industry and UCL Professors have revealed that commuting by train and escaping the work from home routine can have a positive impact on cognitive performance, wellbeing, productivity and motivation.

It comes after last week saw seasonal and peak train journeys increase by 30% since August, with the industry’s latest research revealing over three quarters (77%) of hybrid* workers are planning to return to their workplace.


The research, which was conducted as part of the rail industry’s ‘Let’s get back on track’ campaign, found that improved mental health (48%), work/life balance (46%), productivity (46%), motivation (47%) and fitness levels (51%) are some of the positive effects these workers are expecting to experience as they head back to their workplace more regularly.

At the start of the pandemic, those who began working from home indulged in snacking more (50%), working with the TV on (33%) or spending more time on social media (26%). But now, nearly half of these workers from home say they now find these things a hinderance to productivity. In line with this, 43% of hybrid workers admit to facing more distractions when working from home (WFH) compared to just 29% in the workplace. The biggest distractions were cited as household admin (35%), cooking meals and taking food breaks (30%) and home deliveries (29%).

When delving deeper into the neuroscience of train travel, UCL Professors Joseph Devlin and Daniel Richardson found that the distractions and additional tasks created as a result of working from home made it hard for people to focus, impaired their ability to learn and lowered their wellbeing.


Conversely, 46% of those polled agreed that the office environment puts them in better mindset for work, rising to 55% of 18–34-year-olds.  Respondents felt that they are likely to be more productive when in the workplace as they can ask colleagues in person rather than scheduling a call (45%) and are able to bounce ideas off colleagues more easily (40%). 

As more commuters return to the office this week over half of workers (55%) feel that the biggest benefit of travelling by train is the scenery out of the window, and a further quarter (24%) say the movement of the train brings a sense of calm. The neuroscientists confirmed that ‘the daily train commute has potential psychological benefits for both wellbeing and brain function’.

Prof Joseph Devlin from UCL commented: “The commute delineates boundaries between home and work-life and can be used to switch one off and transition to the other, which can have a positive impact on cognitive performance, wellbeing and productivity. Being able to escape the humdrum of the same environment gives your brain a wake-up call.  Just going to work generates more diverse experiences than working from home, especially through interactions with other people. This greater novelty helps generate new memories, making each day more unique, sharpening recollection and reducing this 'brain fog' so commonly experienced during lockdown.”


With nearly a quarter of hybrid workers citing ‘me time’ (23%) as one of the biggest benefits of their commute, and wanting to help people make the most of their trip to the work place, the rail industry is offering commuters a range of free and exclusive discounts including FutureLearn online courses, hot drinks and tastecard memberships, with even more offers coming soon at nationalrail.co.uk/commuter

Seb Gordon, Director of External Communications for the Rail Delivery Group and spokesperson for the rail industry comments: “We know the last 18 months have been really tough on people working from home. The latest research shows some of the challenges people have faced, from distractions and the formation of lockdown habits to the blurred lines between home life and work life.

We’ve worked with government to introduce the new Flexi Season ticket, giving commuters the freedom and flexibility to divide their time between home and the office, and are pleased to have a range of offers to help customers make the most of their ‘me time’ on the train and the days they commute.”

In addition to these great rewards for people who are commuting by train, the rail industry is helping people travel and book with confidence by providing better journey information about busier trains and alternative routes, boosting cleaning, ensuring carriages are well ventilated and helping them change a booked journey fee free should their circumstances change. 

For more information visit www.nationalrail.co.uk/commuter



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Notes to editors

Notes to Editors

*Workers who have been working both from home and the office

Additional neuroscience findings for media

 “It becomes difficult to distinguish one day from the next because we do the same things with the same people in the same places every day, resulting in insufficient novelty to create distinct memories (Sugar & Moser, 2019). When you work from home, every online meeting feels similar to every other meeting because you tend to sit in exactly the same place in front of exactly the same screen.”

“There are clear psychological, emotional, and productivity benefits to successfully switching work off at the end of day. People who feel more detached from their work during off-hours are more satisfied with the lives, experience less emotional exhaustion and sleep better (Sonnentag et al., 2012).”

“The evidence is that distracting stimuli and competing tasks can impair learning, memory and attention. They raise stress levels and reduce motivation. For these reasons, environments that are noisy and produce multiple demands - such as working from home with other family members, doing the laundry and answering the front door - can lead to lowered mood and performance. In addition, when the brain has to carry out concurrent tasks - such as driving while listening to an audiobook - it is to the detriment of both.”

“A part of the brain called the hippocampus is important for forming new memories – but it also plays an important role in spatial navigation. In fact, neuroscientists have shown that the hippocampus grows in size while cabbies learn to navigate the streets of London (Maguire et al., 2000). This relationship also explains why “memory palaces” work (Legge et al., 2012). Given a list of unrelated information that needs to be stored and then recalled later, you can imagine wandering through a familiar environment placing to-be-remembered items in specific locations. To recall the items, you only need to re-trace your path, noting items along the journey, leveraging a fundamental link between memory and navigating the environment.”


To inspire commuters to make the most of their ‘me-time’ on their train journey, the rail industry is giving commuters access to free hot drinks from Pure, free three-month tastecard subscriptions and exclusive offers like 20% off a free upgrade on FutureLearn courses after the first 1,000 free upgrades have been redeemed. All FutureLearn courses can be done on your smart device in bitesize chunks - perfect for helping you develop new skills on your daily commute. 

About the ‘Let’s Get back on track campaign’
The Let’s get back on track campaign is at the heart of the rail industry recovery programme, developed by RDG in collaboration with TOCs with DfT’s consultation throughout the planning stages. This is the biggest consumer rail campaign since the pandemic with a significant media investment behind it, to allow the rail industry to reach key audiences and drive consideration of train travel. The campaign launched on 16th August via a broad mix of media channels to ensure national coverage.   

About the research and academic review Consumer research was conducted with Opinium between 10th-17th September 2021.  The research surveyed 3001 UK adults in work and was demographically representative of the working population.

Rail industry commissioned UCL neuroscientists Prof. Joseph Devlin and Prof. Daniel Richardson to review academic research and discuss the principles and empirical findings from neuroscience and behavioural psychology.  The review looked into how distracting environments and demands of multi-tasking can impact learning, memory and cognition, and how forms of commuting can be leveraged for psychological wellbeing.