/ 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?


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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?

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.

Network Rail is, effectively, the taxpayer.

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.

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.

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

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

Network Rail is nationalised.

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

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.

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

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

Not fully

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

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.

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

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.

Last September while we were on holiday our water main burst and there was no supply for, it seems, a day and a bit while it was repaired. No doubt others were on holiday too and, like us, missed the disruption. Nevertheless we were all given £30 off our bills even though we suffered in no way. But we’ll pay that back sometime in higher bills.

I don’t know how else the compensation could have been dealt with, but shows one problem I see with automatic payments. Water mains burst, electricity lines get damaged, planes get diverted, trains get held up. Unless there is real negligence why can we not tolerate the sorts of things that happen in life without demanding money as satisfaction?

Forget compensation and whingeing about delays , find out why we are the only country in the world which can’t cope with a slight change in the weather ( already forecast and expected ) but can find billions of pounds to fund even more white elephants ? Sorry about the rant but it’s so infuriating how we never seem to learn, peace & love from Jonty. 🚄 😠

In Durham County the council has kept the roads open until drifting started by the wind.

Durham is a county that expects to get snow in winter so are prepared for it Down south they do not expect snow so are not prepared for it when if comes , a few flakes forecast and everybody panics so it seems this year it did turn bad i know but there was no need to panic before it came just be prepared for when it does come

My comments are not about this weather but along the same lines ihad a ticket to go to football arsenal chelsea Jan 10 2018 on a weekday night so I checked at my local stn new milton the day before as i usually do about returning home to be told that the last train was 2205from waterloo to newmilton at 0005 which we both thought was odd.
On the day I went to visit my brother in Southampton hospital on the way up at Southampton i again asked about how to get home to be told the same info and he got annoyed when I queried it. I came back from the hospital and asked another clerk to check and she asked how I got information shirtily info still the same so never went to football as to get home I would have had to left at half time .
Not happy I returned home at home in checked info again still the same just before the game I checked again this time it showed that there were trainsto home but it meant a bus ride from Southampton which wasn’t ideal but I would have got home later I’ve done it before
So I missed the game through mis or lack of information.
I’ve since heard that at weekends southwestern didn’t publish alterations to time tables until last minuteso customers would be in the same position which is unacceptable .I complained to swt and got standard short reply
So God knows what information will be given out during this bad weather

How is it reasonable to penalise a company for closing their service when the weather makes it impossible to provide one. Don’t forget the company loses money when it shuts down. The whole premise of claiming for “Acts of Gods” is asinine

Possibly Mostpeople under stand about extremes in weather etc delays , but it the lack of joined up thinking coordination and or senior staff not available, shortage of staff and trains and the seemingly lack of genuine respect to theire customers who they treat as cash cows that angers people

I expect the railway companies were experiencing staff shortages just the same as most other employers and some of the trains were probably in the wrong place to follow the usual diagram.

If you are running a service then you are legally bound to supply said service or offer alternatives be it compensation or other.
Much the same as if you bought any electrical equipment or a car under sale of goods act

Not so Lew. There is no contract between a passenger and a train operating company that obliges the company to provide a service, and indeed, under health and safety legislation, it would be a criminal offence to do so if a risk assessment indicated it would be too hazardous. If trains are not running refunds are available for tickets purchased in advance.

KS says:
1 March 2018

I have a 20 minute journey. This evening I had to wait over an hour. Many years ago- in the bad old days – BR coped with conditions much worse than those I saw today by running shuttle services up and down the line – the split up of railway companies seems to have thrown this out of the window – whilst I was waiting on a freezing platform – 2 cross country trains went through the station on time. It was only local services that were being disrupted – and as this has now been more the norm than these trains running on time from Oxford for at least a few weeks now I don’t think it can all be blamed on the weather.
The state of local services is steadily in decline – they may be thinking about services like those on the Tube without a timetable because the number of services has increased but I’d have to say that isn’t the case on the stretch that I use – far from it – in fact there is even the con of claiming that there are more trains running than there are by suggesting that people travel (at a premium) to stations further down the line and then catch a train running in the opposite direction.

I know what it’s like to have to travel when there are problems, but fortunately I never had to travel in the weather as bad as that we now are having, so I can understand what all commuters are having to put up with. I am now retired but still think of those that do have to get to work and know what they are having to put up with.

VK says:
1 March 2018

It is a joke. Heavy price to pay for commute, on top of that no seats, less number of coaches, delays and when comes to compensation, we have to prove the delay and only then claim. Not acceptable. It should be automated and no passenger should ever have to go through this harassment.

Darren says:
1 March 2018

I drive to work, it took me 5 hours yesterday due to traffic; I will have to make my time up. At the same time I pay tax on my petrol that subsidises railway commuters; I do sympathise but who can I complain to?

I walk to and from work.

Yesterday, it took me 10 minutes each way, same as it always does.

As the snow gradually settled here, our managers made it clear that folk could leave early if they wanted to, e.g. if they had long drives to get home.

Today, my colleagues are only expected to come to work if they can safely undertake their journeys to and from the workplace.

Some may be able to work from home – others may lose some time. Irrespective of that, we don’t expect colleagues to take undue risks just to get into work,

You should move a little further away so that you get more exercise commuting to work. 🙂 I wonder how many people try to live close to work.

To your management via your union if you are in one

The latest trick is to remove the trains from the timetable at short notice. As it didn’t exists it wasn’t cancelled.


People move away from where their work is to live in a perfect environment have to spent much time getting to and from work as I have often said “if anything can go wrong it will” that includes transport so if you must travel to get to work you must accept this Too many people traveling at the same time is bound to give problems for everyone no matter your mode of transport , the way with least problems is walking but then there is the weather to contend with a times all other ways have there own problems which will happen but many do not think they will and do not expect any problems at all.. Everything must be perfect at all times but is it ever?

Ross says:
2 March 2018

We travelled from Manchester to Blaenau Ffestiniog on Weds and the journey was chaotic. However, the people manning the service were very good to us, letting us on trians we hadn’t booked because of the disruption. We even managed to cross the mountains in Snowdonia to get home. It was chaotic but it worked. Well done Railtrak, Arriva and Llew Jones.

T C says:
2 March 2018

Being kept informed regularly about on going problems may sometimes assuage the feeling of a need for compensation. Passengers understanding the difficulties would invoke some empathy in a great number.

If ALL train companys’ staff were given regular updates and trained in passing it on – and MADE to pass it on (written into job specs) – it would make us feel they, the carriers, are doing something and actually care. Too often lack of information, while waiting around at stations lead to frustration and anger.
Last minute info, too late for passengers to make other arrangements, is also a major fault. The last point is also directed at train and bus companies.
There is no reason with mobile phones, social media, etc to keep passengers in the dark of what is going on – if not minute by minute, very regularly. Even if there is no change, tell us regularly !

Nancy says:
2 March 2018

I tried to get my usual train from Leeds to Sheffield on Wednesday, which takes an hour. This train got cancelled, and the only other service to Sheffield available within the hour was a already delayed train that took an extra 20 minutes to Sheffield normally because it had local stops. However, this train was ridicuously cold because there was no insulation to speak of so not only did my hands and feet go numb, but we kept getting stuck at stations because the doors kept freezing shut! Not only did this turn my journey from an hour + 20 to an hour + 40, but was just like being sat outside and I was genuinley worried I’d get stuck on there.

Agree about compensation for delays and cancellations, and also agree with comments calling for a simple and straightforward refund procedure. How the train companies automatically identify which passengers are affected / get compensation is the tricky (but not impossible) part – hence i suppose they want us to make the claim. Season Ticket Holders, Monthly Pass holders etc. should i think be automatically compensated. A bit more complicated for pay as you go customers and one-off passengers but a system could be developed to automatically identify affected customers.

Alan Selley says:
2 March 2018

I claimed for a delayed journey last year – the delay was one and a quarter hours. I don’t know what all the fuss is about – I got my refund. Admittedly it was 6 months and 4 days later.