/ Travel & Leisure

Brief cases: passenger assistance troubles

Have you ever had problems booking rail passenger assistance? Here’s how we helped a member when he was left £130 out of pocket.

John bought £75 return tickets from Trainline.com for him and his wife to travel from Liverpool to Southwold.

John is disabled, and contacted Trainline’s passenger assistance to make accessible travel arrangements for his connection between London Liverpool Street and Euston.

On the way back, the transfer time between stations only allowed enough time to make the journey by tube, rather than giving John more time to take a taxi. As a result, the couple missed their train, forcing them to buy new tickets for the next train home, costing £130.

Trainline refused to reimburse John, saying that it’s a ‘third-party retailer’ and has no liability.

‘Specific promises’

We advised John that usually Trainline acts solely as an ‘agent’ for booking train tickets, and therefore
would not be liable for issues with his journey.

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However, passenger assistance is a service it specifically promised to provide during a recorded phone conversation. We advised John to request the transcript, and use this to challenge the company’s decision.

As a result, Trainline paid John £140 to cover the cost of his train and taxi fare home. It also offered him an extra £150 in compensation.

In this situation, Trainline’s failure to arrange acceptable passenger assistance could be considered
negligent, and failing to comply with this promise would amount to an express breach of contract.

Reasonable losses

John was legally entitled to claim for reasonable losses; in this case, the extra train fare he had to pay to get home.

Contract law doesn’t enforce compensation being paid for inconvenience, but on this occasion Trainline offered it as a goodwill gesture.

Trainline said:

“Our team is trained to recognise the needs of passengers with disabilities. We were sorry to hear that Mr Hutchinson’s experience did not meet the high standards we set at Trainline, and we felt it was right to compensate him.

We’ll make sure our customer team receives up-to-date training on how to support customers with disabilities”

Have you ever experienced problems when booking passenger assistance as part of your rail journey? Did the company deal with your complaint effectively?


It is good to hear that John was able to get his extra costs refunded.

But, the real story here seems to be that he was mis-sold cheap fares that weren’t actually a viable package, given his assistance requirements as a disabled passenger.

I’ve recently seen some folk falling prey to similar tricks when booking very cheap airline flights. Very low basic flight prices lure folk in, but then they can ending up paying much more on top, just so they can take all their luggage with them.

It may well be simply that the Trainline staff member made a mistake. They got the journey right but overlooked the consequence of the tube connection. We’ve all made mistakes. When do we abandon the concept of a “mistake” and replace it with “incompetence” and “negligence”?

The goodwill gesture seems generous.

I expect the “goodwill gesture” was as much a public relations damage limitation response knowing that Which? was on the case. Without such intervention I doubt there would have been any recompense.

The inter-terminal transit between London Liverpool Street and London Euston must be one of the most difficult in London for anybody with mobility difficulties and taxi should really be the default method. Using the Underground involves a minimum of one change of train and I am stumped to think of a route between the two stations that doesn’t involve steps at some point, a lot of inconvenience, and a great deal of time.

The intro says “the transfer time between stations only allowed enough time to make the journey by tube, rather than giving John more time to take a taxi”. It would be interesting to know how the time allowed by the Trainline for travel between the two termini was calculated such that it was less than going by taxi. It looks simple on the tube map but practical difficulties and the long interconnection distances at the interchange stations plus multiple changes of level make it a very difficult journey. The basic travel plan was clearly wrong, and would also be for anyone with children or luggage to contend with.

It could have taken longer but John might have enjoyed a better journey [with much nicer scenery] if he had taken the train from Liverpool Lime Street all the way to Norwich and then the bus to Southwold. A very short bus or taxi hop across Norwich city centre would have been necessary to link the train and the bus. If John had a concessionary bus travel pass his Norwich-Southwold bus journeys would have been free. The lowest fares I can find for the Liverpool-Norwich train journey [standard class with disabled persons railcard] would have cost around £85 for both outward and return journeys. The small extra would be worth it for the stunning ride across the Pennines between Manchester and Sheffield.

I was somewhat chuffed by W?C’s reference to a train journey to Southwold.

From reference material here, the narrow gauge Southwold Railway closed as long ago as 1929.

The nearest train stations to Southwold are at Darsham and at Halesworth, both about ten miles away and both on the East Suffolk Line which serves London Liverpool Street to Lowestoft, via Ipswich (change at Ipswich). The rail service is operated by Abellio GreaterAnglia.“.Maybe they could be called “Southwold Road” and Southwold Parkway”. It may not be many years before you can chuff to Southwold https://www.southwoldrailway.co.uk/

A bit more distant is London Oxford Airport (62m to London).

Nina says:
22 June 2019

I’ve been left waiting for assistance (a staff member to come with a ramp) multiple times on the train, causing delays to my fellow passengers and irritating the driver who wants me to stop blocking the door, both on the tube and mainline trains. I’ve also missed trains due to ramps being in use (despite booking) or not enough staff on the station. All responses I’ve had from the companies were apologies, I didn’t lose any money. Visiting Stockholm this year it seemed to work much better – the ramp as well as the staff member whose job it was to assist wheelchair users were both located on the train and there was no need to book assistance as long as you made yourself known.

As an aside it’s ridiculous that tube stations with mainline counterparts aren’t prioritised for wheelchair access.

Heather says:
25 June 2019

Whilst I appreciate that in some cases it is about the money, what is often overlooked is when something goes wrong the stress of dealing with making alternative arrangements, on top of making a journey which already causes massive fatigue, can take days to recover from. A gesture financially needs to reflect the level of inconvenience experienced and I doubt this goes near it. A heartfelt apology and immediate ownership of a fix is of far higher value.

S.miles says:
26 June 2019

My sister in yalding Kent she in wheel chair you housed to be able to get on both sides of platform now you can get on 1 side which means my sister has to pre book ramps ect and a few times they came on wrong side .she has to go paddock wood change platform then go to maidstone totally unfair for all yalding residents plus there building new houses in village