The way the rail compensation system works is in my view designed to short-change travellers. Unfair refund policies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting compensation from train companies.
Last April my colleague Richard Dilks complained that the rail compensation system is too complex. I’d go further – it’s unfairly loaded in the train companies’ favour in a variety of ways. Ronnie Biggs would be proud of the scale of rail companies’ daylight robbery.
Every time I take a long distance train, something goes wrong. No really – trains (along with photocopiers, cats and bank staff) really don’t seem to like me.
The trial of getting compensation
Last weekend I was heading up to Lincolnshire for my mum’s birthday. A train somewhere ahead of us broke down and I finally arrived in Grimsby over two hours late.
As usual, I filled in an East Coast compensation form. (You can use the free Which? train delay tool to find out who to contact and how much you’re entitled to).
As I was more than two hours late, I was entitled to compensation of ‘100% of the cost of a single ticket or 100% of the cost of a return ticket’.
However, the East Coast claim form states that ‘when you purchase two separate advance single tickets to make a round trip, these do not constitute a return ticket’. So I only got one way refunded, even though I had bought both tickets at the same time. Anyone with a return ticket would get both journeys refunded.
An out-of-date refund system
If I want to take advantage of the train company’s system of releasing advance tickets at a cheaper price, I have to accept that I’ll fall foul of the archaic compensation structure if things go wrong.
Here’s an example. A super off-peak return from London to Grimsby costs £82. An anytime return costs a whopping £216. Buy two singles, however, and you can travel for as little as £11.55 each way. Of course, I always choose the cheaper option.
But when things (inevitably) go wrong, I only get a single ticket refund. If I wanted to reclaim the price of a return ticket, I would have had to pay almost four times the price in the first place. Hardly fair, surely. And East Coast has no excuse – it has been government-run since the franchise-holder National Express walked away from the route in 2009.
What am I meant to do with these vouchers?
The second stage of the trick comes in the form of the paper vouchers that train companies send you in compensation.
The cheapest advance fares from East Coast are to be found on the internet, but you can’t use the compensation vouchers online. I’m either left with vouchers I can’t use on the route I want to take, or I’m forced to pay over the odds at the station for my next ticket.
Either way, I think it’s sharp practice and shows a mocking contempt for rail passengers who have already been inconvenienced by the train companies’ inability to run an efficient service.
Have you been caught out by train companies’ charging and refund structure? And what would you do to reform the way rail refunds are carried out?