/ Travel & Leisure

Beastly commutes: is it time for auto comp for train delays?

snow on tracks

It’s snow joke: commuting has been a pain this week. Delays and cancellations have been rife, despite the ‘Beast from the East’ snow storm arriving pretty much as predicted. So is it time for train passengers to get automatic compensation for delays and cancellations?

Many of you will have been graced with a dusting, or a few centimetres, of snow over the past few days. And as Carol Kirkwood on BBC Breakfast has reminded me every morning this week: it’s cold, it’s getting colder and there’s more snow on the way.

Despite attempts by the Beast to stop me, I’ve just about managed to keep commuting as normal this week. And judging by how packed my trains have been, so have many of my fellow commuters.

For the latest updates on how my trains are running, I’ve been keeping a close eye on Twitter to see what other irritated passengers are tweeting (the news from my train operator hasn’t been particularly forthcoming).

And I’ve grown accustomed to wrapping up warm, with walking boots to steady myself, for the inevitable lengthy waits on the platform for the train to finally crawl into the station.

This morning was no exception, and I found myself stood for the best part of an hour, as one train was cancelled and another delayed.

And as I peer through the windows of our Marylebone Road office and watch the snow continue to tumble down outside, I wonder what’s in store for my commute home – will I be caught up in travel havoc?

Claiming compensation

Of course, I can claim compensation for these delays, In fact, I’m well versed at it now – I take out my phone and note down the date and time of the delay. That way, when I eventually find a moment to file my claims, I have all the details I need.

The actual process of filing a claim for me isn’t too much trouble – it requires a log in (because the train company then has all of my details on record), I also need the details and image of my season ticket (which I have a photo of on my phone) and then the date, time and reason for delay.

Providing you have all the information, the process takes about 10 minutes. But when you find yourself doing this every day, and sometimes twice a day, it’s takes up a fair chunk of time.

Now, every time I fill in that pesky form I wonder whether it should be simpler. I’m a delayed passenger, who has been told so by the train driver apologising for the delay, now having to prove the delay to the train company with all supporting evidence. The company will then examine the evidence and credit my bank account if it agrees.

Train companies automatically receive compensation from Network Rail for disruptions but most train companies require passengers to jump through hoops to get their money back. But most train companies require their passengers to complete the admin forms, and some are trickier than others.

While we have free online guides to help affected passengers navigate the confusing claims system, these don’t fix the problem of train companies not dishing out the dough that’s owed to all of their affected customers.

Isn’t it time hat train companies sorted this out, improved their systems and simply automatically compensated their customers?

Do you agree that delayed rail passengers should be automatically compensated for rail disruptions like the rail companies are? Have you been delayed by the Beast from the East, too? Have you found it tricky to claim for a train delay or cancellation?

Comments
Member

But how do you make it work? The system has to know you’ve actually travelled on a delayed train. And claiming compensation for a delayed train when in fact you were on the one before or after, or didn’t even travel that day, is fraud.

Member

Yes, they do need to know that you actually travelled on their train. Some train companies have managed to roll out automatic compensation as they have a ticketing system that can support this. Smart ticketing is one way to support moving to automatic compensation.

Member

We are still a long way away from having a comprehensive smart ticketing system. There are so many difficulties to be ironed out [many caused by the impenetrable fares structure and conditions of carriage, etc] that the tangerine train tickets will be with us for many years to come.

Member

Even with Oyster it isn’t foolproof. You sometimes get automatic compensation if a line wasn’t working properly at the time you touched in. But not always. I was a Circle line regular where with its ten-minute interval just one cancelled train and the next one running late can delay you by more than 15 minutes. I had to claim manually each time.

Member

This is one issue I see with automatic compensation. It will simply push up prices for everyone. To me, a 15 min delay should not be a problem. We need to take account of possible delays in our planning. Will motorist be compensated when they get held up? We should make time in our schedule for unexpected events.

Member
ian says:
2 March 2018

For every train that is cancelled
that equal number of days is free travel including parking. Eg 100 train journeys cancelled = 100 free days travel for everyone. It is only because of the total incompetence of network rail that any train is cancelled due to 1 inch of snow.

Member

That is not the reason most services were cancelled, Ian. It was a combination of safety for passengers at stations, safety of personnel – not just train drivers but track workers and signallers – availability of rolling stock and crews, very low temperatures affecting equipment, and low visibility in blizzard conditions particularly of signals and of trains.

Far from Network Rail being incompetent I consider the organisation has performed magnificently to provide a safe network and enable the train companies to operate a good number of services on important routes. Network Rail management carries a huge burden of responsibility at times like this that most people would not be able to discharge safely or responsibly. Would you send a train out in these conditions not knowing what might happen and whether or not it would reach its destination and then return safely?

There are times when it is indisputably best to close parts of the network rather than give a false impression of reliability. Very few journeys are vital and people had fair warning of this interruption to normal life and time to change their plans.

Member

I do wonder why people travel in such conditions. I may be unfair (I suppose I sometimes am) but a motorist stuck in Scotland had set off from Aberdeen, destination Devon, presumably having seen that the weather could not have been worse on that journey. Whilst he might have suffered (self inflicted0 inconvenience, how many others might have been even more inconvenienced in a rescue. Equally, why undertake train travel, knowing the weather was likely to cause disruption, and then talk of claiming compensation? But, I may be being unfair. Are such journeys really necessary though?

Member

It’s an interesting question. Many people have different perceptions as to what constitutes necessity. Add to that that many drivers seriously overestimate their ability and that it only takes a single large vehicle to get held up to cause mayhem then it does make a very good case for staying at home.

Our own Toyota, all-wheel drive does have Diff lock, but even we stay on the back tracks and off the main roads. so as to avoid the problems created by those who have no idea how to handle a vehicle in snow. We are lucky, I suppose, since this type of weather isn’t that unusual for us, but the incoming freezing rain is something we’d not even contemplate trying to navigate.

Member

A few years ago, we had quite a lot of snow the day of a long-awaited hospital appointment. Cancelling it would have meant waiting weeks for another appointment, so we braved the roads. We were able to confirm with the hospital en-route that the journey was worth making and the doctors had made it in.

Thankfully, most cars stayed off the road and we got there and back safely. This time we have stayed home or walked.

Member

Yesterday I went to Norwich on the train. I had to walk to the station because the local bus service had been suspended and I had to walk across Norwich for about an hour because, again, the roads were impassable. The train, which had started at Liverpool and gone across the Pennines, was about fifteen minutes late arriving at my station and about twelve minutes late into Norwich. I didn’t even think about claiming any compensation and I would not have wanted automatic compensation. For me, the railway did something yesterday that no other transport mode was capable of.

I can appreciate that regular passengers must get fed up with making their compensation claims but perhaps those with digital season tickets could merely log their delays over an accounting period and get a one or two day extension to their season ticket rather than a bank credit. I would take extreme and exceptional weather conditions [i.e. those subject to a Met Office amber or red alert] out of the compensation scheme altogether.

Member

My season ticket is a piece of card that accompanies another piece of card with a glued down passport photo to prove it’s my ticket… by the end of the year, it looks pretty ropey. I have a month to log a compensation claim at the moment – I’d love free travel days, that would save me a fortune!

Member

I don’t understand why compensation is payable when delays and cancellations are caused by severe weather, which is hardly the fault of the companies involved.

Member

It’s not necessarily due to severe weather though, Wavechange. This week I’ve had train crew shortages and train faults, none of the delays I’ve experienced have been down to the weather. It was also reported this week that train operators pocket around £180m in compensation paid to them by Network Rail for service disruption caused by things like severe weather – do you not think the affected passengers should get that compensation?

Member

Those working on public transport may not be able to get to work in extreme weather conditions.

Member

Good point, Alfa. And mechanical failures might also be attributable to the weather. My train yesterday had compacted snow over the front end with just the windscreen clear. The bogies and traction motors were also clogged up with snow. During one part of my relatively short journey there were blizzard conditions.

None of yesterday’s delays on my route were due to Network Rail so if automatic compensation was payable it would have to be met by the train operating company increasing the price of non-regulated fares [so no impact on season ticket prices which are regulated]. Is this what we wish for?

Member

Lauren – In my view, the payment of compensation should depend on the reasons why a train is late or does not run, which would be best assessed independently.

A few years ago I turned up at a station in the north of Scotland to come back home after the holiday bread, only to find that all trains out of Scotland had been cancelled. The following day I did get home but via a different route because of a tree on the line and other problems caused by severe weather. I arrived home hours late, but rather than claiming compensation I felt like writing to the companies involved and congratulating them.

I see this as a very different situation from customers regularly being let down by train and other service providers in the absence of poor weather or other factors beyond the company’s control, where automatic compensation is fair.

If Network Rail if paying compensation to the train operators it’s fair enough that it should be passed on, but it’s the customers who have to foot the bill for compensation, so ticket prices will rise.

Member

Network Rail is, effectively, the taxpayer.

Member

So the taxpayer passes on money to……..the taxpayer. Exactly Nick. I’d like to see compensation awarded when real loss has occurred and can be proven. Refund the cost of tickets that cannot be used because of a TOC failure. But pay everyone irrespective? Not sensible in my book.

Member
Lewis torrington says:
1 March 2018

The tocs are getting subsidies and making big profits and most are being given to share holders and companies outside of the UK at the expense of passengers and tax payers.

Member
Lewis torrington says:
1 March 2018

The compensation doesn’t cover all the problems that poor service causes like missing leisure events and interviews etc.

Member
Lewis torrington says:
1 March 2018

Surely government subsidised network rail only pays tax on any profits it makes if any

Member

Network Rail is nationalised.

Member

Depends on the TOC. Southern/GTR is a contractor and gets paid a fee. All the fare income goes to the Treasury.

Member

Lewis – From memory I think the total profits for all the train operating companies in Great Britain in 2016-17 were £271 million. Given the turnover this is not much.

Just as if going to a leisure event or an interview by road, it is advisable to travel early in case of any hold-ups.

Member
Lew says:
2 March 2018

With most profits whatever they are and subsidies going to foreign owned tocs it’s unacceptable that they are able to walk away when they’ve had enough cream then we the tax payer pick up the bill as with virgin stagecoach etc and carrillion

Member

If you are referring to the premature termination of the East Coast Main Line franchise, Lew, then no one is walking away full of cream. The franchise has met all its financial and service delivery obligations to the government, including the prescribed premium payments, and Stagecoach has lost £200 million because of the charge on its performance bond. The government has lost nothing.

I don’t know whether the taxpayer has taken a hit from Carillion on its railway civil engineering contracts. I would think it’s unlikely because the contractor would normally be paid in arrears, so some payments can be withheld, and also because it was a requirement in joint venture contracts [as used for most major projects] that the other parties must accept the continuing liability for performance

Member
Lew says:
2 March 2018

Not fully

Member
Lew says:
3 March 2018

Fair point but where has the the public monies gone that financed the privatisation at the the start and continue to do so and the public monies that funds the rail system when the tocs and infrastructure companies fold.the possible idea of public transport is to ease congestion and help us to move around and not use the roads, not everybody drives.
You can leave it plenty of time which I allways try to do to to chagrin of my wife and not get there on time because crap service.
If the company’s put customer service first instead of trying to make themself look good by trying to flimflaming us.
The banks and councils have monies put aside albeit some of it our money then surely tocs should havesome put by for compensation instead of paying inflated salaries to management and executives

Member

The train companies do estimate the levels of compensation likely to be required and make provision for it, but sometimes this goes wrong. Great North Eastern Railway, a previous franchisee on the East Coast Main Line and part of the Sea Containers group, predicted a level of compensation to be receivable from Network Rail in respect of infrastructure faults giving rise to delays and passenger compensation claims. It was well known, and has been commented on here, that a low percentage of passengers actually claim the compensation that they are eligible for so the money coming in from NR exceeds the payout. GNER gambled that this would drop nicely to its bottom line and enhance its profits and general viability. Sadly for them – and for their passengers, because it was a highly respected operator providing a high standard of service – Network Rail performed better than anticipated and the income from delay claims against NR fell to such low levels that it impacted on trading results and the company decided it was no longer a viable operation so they handed in the keys.

I don’t think privatisation was taxpayer-funded. Bids were made for all the franchises, albeit some of them required substantial public subsidies as they always had done. The big mistake the government made at the time was to classify the railways as a no-growth industry and treat it accordingly. Over the last twenty years most of the franchises have grown passenger numbers dramatically through investment in new trains and services and the upgrading of stations and facilities so the level of subsidy for train operations has fallen in real terms. However, as a consequence, the amount of money required by Network Rail to maintain and enhance the rail network has risen exponentially. This was not the original intention but has made the system more resilient and created much more capacity. Most people consider these to have been desirable objectives.

Member
Lew says:
3 March 2018

Staff numbers have been cut and liable to fall further with loss of ticketing staff and regrettably possibly guards being done away with leading to a possibly unsafe experience whilst travelling .imagine how passengers would have fared if there were no guards in this bout of bad weather in my area where several trains were marooned and passengers enduring 15hrs on a freezing train or being luckily put up in hotels ,and the driver locking himself in his cab.
So going on your post tocs endangered those passengers , trains have been cancelled since then .
Privatisation was funded by taxpayers as you say so yourself and due to profiteering and dangerous maintenance or lack of it by some infrastructure companies and rail track failure to monitor them
Nwr was set up again using public money to take on the infrastructure maintenance from the likes of amec ,balfour beatty etc,as a semi private public company , most of the improvements to trains have been superficial with trains not fit for purpose unmanned stns .
Companies relying on Staff having towork over time to run a service
To be fair there has been some improvements to main stns

Member

Compensation eventually comes out of the user’s pocket – whether through general taxation or directly in increased ticket prices. Your compensation will be someone else’s loss. So we should be very circumspect about how it is distributed. If a company is significantly negligent in (not) providing a service that results in a loss to travellers say, then some compensation should be made. But what compensation would we like? A refund of the ticket price if you ccannot make your journey. But otherwise, if circumstances cause a delay but you can still travel, what then? Trains break down, staff can have problems, leaves do disrupt services, snow does affect operations, signal wiring can be damaged (or be stolen).

I see a real problem in developing a compensation culture, because it can spread in different directions, including personal ones. For example, do you have to pay your employers compensation when you cannot turn up for work because you have a personal problem, are ill, have a hangover, or your car broke down? Presumably it is disruptive to some degree to their business.