/ Travel & Leisure

Update: Rail regulator confirms compensation for delays is in a sorry state

Train station

The regulator responds to our super-complaint on issues with compensation for rail delays, and found a situation worse than even we expected. So what happens now?

It’s shocking, but not surprising to us, that the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found that 80% of passengers aren’t claiming when they are entitled to compensation for a rail delay.

In December 2015, we used our legal powers to lodge a super-complaint with the ORR calling for an urgent investigation into the behaviors and practices of train operating companies. After the backing of more than 40,000 of our campaign supporters, the ORR has now responded to our super-complaint.

The ORR agreed with the concerns we raised in our super-complaint (PDF) and has set out actions that are a short-term step in the right direction to resolve the problems passengers are facing.

More action needed

The ORR’s report found that train companies need to be doing much more than they are to help passengers get a refund when they’re entitled to one.

Just as we found, the ORR also saw some rail companies are doing better.

However, this is outweighed by some rather shocking findings of practices exposed.

One train company confessed in the ORR’s report that it’s not in its best interest to promote compensation to its passengers.

Three other train companies scored a dismal ZERO on ORR’s mystery shop of staff and failed to provide full and accurate information to passengers seeking to claim compensation.

Both findings paint a grim picture of the attitudes to compensation in the sector and seriousness of the problems passengers are facing.

Next steps for the campaign

The announcement is a win for everyone who has backed our campaign to Make Rail Refunds Easier. The pressure is now on the train companies to show they can bring about urgently needed basic improvements for their customers.

Where train companies have been found breaching consumer law and licence conditions, the ORR must take enforcement action without delay.

However, this alone won’t do. The problem must be solved for the long-term. The Government must now ensure that the rail regulator has all the powers necessary to be a watchdog with real teeth to put passengers at the heart of this system.

What do you think of the regulator’s announcement?

[UPDATE 29 MARCH 2016] Our analysis of ten years of Transport Focus data has found that passenger satisfaction has seen little meaningful improvement.

According to official Transport Focus data, passenger satisfaction with value for money has risen by only 7%, from 41% to 48%. Commuters expressed the lowest satisfaction at only 34%, which was an improvement of just 7%. Business passenger satisfaction had risen from 41% to 47%, and leisure travellers from 58% to 64%.

What’s more is passengers saw even less of an improvement to the way delays have been handled, with only a 4% rise in satisfaction. While satisfaction has seen little change, fares have risen by 54% over the decade.

Are rail companies doing enough to compensate passengers for delays?

No (91%, 3,180 Votes)

Don't know (6%, 208 Votes)

Yes (3%, 93 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,481

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How much is the Rail Regulator paid?

Regulators are paid by the rail companies

The trouble is that the ‘compensation’ that you get in no way compensates for the delays and discomfort. Getting a few pounds refund or voucher is not what I want. What I want is to be confident that I can actually get to work (and home) in time every day and be able to sit down or at least stand somewhere relatively safe on my journey. For the amount I pay for my season ticket every month I don’t think this is a lot to ask.

I couldn’t agree more – exactly how I feel.

Absolutely agree as well!! I believe that you should have a seat (of reasonable size) for every journey as well (although there will be unavoidable exceptions – it should be the norm). For very busy commuter lines then the answer is more and/or longer trains. They know which lines and when they are busy.

regulator will not do anything against the rail companies. They just sit and do nothing and getting paid.

Train broke down and arrived at my destination 4 hours late. 29/10/15. Was partially compensated and have had to fight for full refund. Have finally been promised full refund but still waiting for cheque. It’s only taken 5 months.

What train company?

P Rowbotham says:
18 March 2016

I feel it would be more constructive if the companies where encouraged to run the trains on time, rather than being crucified for lateness.

Surely punishing them for being late is an encouragement to be on time, i.e. not late.

Maury says:
18 March 2016

Encouraged? What do you mean? That if the train is on time passengers will be charged twice the price of their ticket? I mean, railway services in the UK are the most expensive in Europe by a long shot, despite being among the least efficient. At least compared to all other countries in Western Europe, British railways are by far the worst. We already pay incredible amounts of money for our journeys. What other encouragement do they need in order to run a decent service?
The only form of encouragement needed is enforcement of the rules with harsh fines if the service provided are not up to minimum standards and if the compensations process is not adequate and swift enough.

Nikki says:
18 March 2016

There should be an automatic refund facility for regular train users e.g. those who book online & are delayed, and those who buy season tickets. Luckily, severe delays on my regular train service is not common (it has happened twice in 3 years) so the anomalies will be really obvious. Of course we should ideally have trains that run on time, are safe & clean, & where tickets are charged at a reasonable price, but this would require significant LONG TERM government investment which the UK gov, of any shade, is simply not willing to provide. Very sad as I love our railways.

Margaret says:
18 March 2016

An automatic refund facility would be great; my experience is that rail companies deliberately make it difficult for passengers to complain by hiding contact details rather than advertising how to complain

I use the Southern ‘Smart’ card – which doesn’t work for season tickets purchased online and doesn’t offer automated refunds or join up with paper tickets purchased using the same payment method. The ‘Delay Repay’ online form is buried deep in Southern’s website and is painful to fill out and no longer automatically auto-completes claims with account details. As I see it Smartcard has created another obstacle to getting refunds.

When trains are cancelled, the operator should be required to automatically explain (over the tannoy along with the cancellation announcement) that all passengers affected can get a refund, and how to go about it. The reason they do not is that cancellation will results in the loss tens of thousands £s to the operator for each cancelled peak commuter train serving London.

It is pointless just fining the rail companies when they fail, the Directors should also incur hefty fines, after all they are in charge, I believe it was President Truman who had a note on his desk saying “The Buck Stops Here”. If this were to be the case perhaps things might improve, one can only hope.

When I claimed and received compensation for a cancelled train I received compensation in the form of a voucher to claim monies off the next train journey. Why don’t rail companies issue compensation as cash.

From August 2015 they are supposed to offer a cash refund

h carter says:
18 March 2016

why do rail journeys cost more than taking my car ? Also the journey time is longer by rail !!! I thought the idea of getting lots of people to travel together was to make it cheaper and get people off the roads

Trains are much faster from Grantham to London than going by car. Plus operator of the year Hull Trains and Virgin East Coast are very good in all respects.

Ian Robertson says:
18 March 2016

You are correct with what you say, but when the East Coast was temporarily NATIONALISED by the Government, and run by Directly Operated Railways for the DfT, the service was even better !

Andy Crawley says:
19 March 2016

On the face of it you are correct, but the maths is skewed as you also have to factor in the cost of the car, insurance, wear and tear / yearly maintenance costs etc for a true comparison, you will then find that mile for mile the train in a majority of cases is cheaper especially if you travel regularly.

For me it is the accumulative effect of the lateness of trains. I catch a train that should arrive from London at 17.22 . I cannot remember the last time this was on time. It isn’t always a half hour late (thus enabling me to claim compensation), but every day it is anything between 5 and 15 minutes late and over the course of five days this all adds up. Very frustrating to say the least.

Be careful what you wish for – their next move could be to amend the timetable to assimilate the actual length of the journeys and ‘improve’ their performance statistics.

Like many so called “regulators”, the Rail Regulator is just another weak and ineffective body that does not act in the consumers’ interest. The inevitable result of privatising service industries is again shown here. Put simply, these industries, which include the railways, are ripping of the UK public by any means they can get away with. “Regulators” are so inept that they do not even seem to realise this; but if they did, it is unlikely they would enforce any worthwhile remedial action, if they took any action at all. Government prefers to turn its back on unacceptable processes, such as the railways compensation swindle, instead leaving the “regulators” to get on with it. Thus, the Government thinks it cannot be held to blame if nothing is ever resolved. Both “regulators” and central Government are responsible for the behaviour of the railways and should be pushed as hard as possible to do something about solving the issues. Crippling fines and the threat of tough legal action would be a minimum start.

David Coates says:
18 March 2016

Well spoken!

Yes indeed – so long as the fines do not rebound on the fare-paying passengers either in higher fares or poorer services.

Andy says:
18 March 2016

“Higher fares” and “poorer services”? Isn’t that what we get every year anyway, John?

Well I wouldn’t go that far Andy. Fare rises have now been pegged back and there have been quite a number of improvements and new services in recent years with new stations opening and faster services on some routes. Unfortunately for much of Britain the picture is not so bright and the system is not keeping pace with the massive growth in the number of passengers. We are still paying a heavy price for the cutbacks in capacity carried out under previous governments in the run-up to privatisation that starved British Rail of investment in track and rolling stock. Now, when things start to go wrong the problems compound and entire regions suffer a collapse in service. Resilience to external incidents and weather-driven emergencies is now extremely fragile. So there remains what a previous BR Chairman described as “the crumbling edge of quality” which the short-termism of franchise operations has done little to redress.

It seems to me that the only way to improve the service in some parts of the country is to reduce demand through the relocation of employment. Unless we are to adopt the safety standards of the Indian railways there is a limit to how many more people can be carried into London on the existing tracks. In other conurbations the limiting factor is the number of trains and carriages available and the unsuitability of some of them for the purpose. The delays in the electrification programme [which requires new trains] are holding up the release of other trains to parts of the country where demand is continually rising and where on some peak services is way above nominal capacity.

Yes I agree with John – overall service standards have increased, especially on the inter city trains. There is still a lot to improve and I do think fares are way too high but generally stations, coaching stock, timeliness and helpfulness of staff is a lot better than when the system was nationalised. The 70’s and 80’s (and the 90’s i think) were terrible times for inter city travel!
But I do think that commuter services are still very bad for many people. A big focus should be on these after all they are what most people see daily.

M. O'rourke says:
18 March 2016

Traveling from Penrith to Liverpool My daughter arrived at Preston to be told “We’re sorry but your connecting train has been cancelled.” When she asked when the next train was, they told her, that train was to have been the last train that night, there would be no other. Nothing else, no “oh we’ve laid on a bus service” or money back. They shut the station and left the passengers there. I had to drive out to get her. She has had no compensation or even an apology. (Virgin trains) This was 18 months ago.

David Coates says:
18 March 2016

This is a typical product of the age in which we live

That is disgusting and totally unacceptable! She should have been provided with a taxi to Liverpool from Preston. In BR days that’s what would have happened! Unfortunately, with the fragmented system of privatisation, if it’s another train company’s fault (in this case Northern?), then Virgin don’t want to know! Whoever is responsible for running the station, which in the case of Preston is probably Virgin, THEY should be responsible for laying on alternative transport and claiming the cost from the train company responsible. I used to work on the railways so have the benefit of “inside knowledge” and would have demanded if that had been me, that they get me to Liverpool. That is the contract that they enter into when the passenger buys a ticket!

How about taking Virgin Trains to the small claims court and include Sir Richard Branson in the summons, he likes being in the “Lime Light”

The ticket to travel is their contract with you to provide a service. To be left in a situation where there is no alternative provided is appalling.
The regulater (sic!) is useless, the private rail companies should all be removed and there should be one company with the same standards throughout the network.
The very idea that you have to claim your money back via a long process only shows how ineffectual the regulator is and how stupid privatisation/destruction of the network was in the first place.

Yet another of a regulatory body being set up to lull customers that their interests are being protected when the regulatory body is in fact looking after the interests of the people they are supposed to be regulating,

Compensation should be on top of the price of the fair you have already paid. If you are late for work, they stop you money because you haven’t worked those hours because you weren’t there. So it should be money back for the fair and money back for the hours that you have lost.
Maybe this will get them to pull their fingers out.

How can the RR be unbiased if it is paid for by the rail companies?

Ultimately the ORR is paid for by the passengers. In terms of direct funding it is a charge on the Exchequer but that comes through the DfT’s finances which include premiums and profit-shares paid by the train operating companies under their franchises [i.e. from fares revenue]. The ORR also gets direct income from applications by operators that wish to run additional services. The unfunded remainder comes from the taxpayer. Its problem is not an excess of bias but a lack of guts and being situated in the middle of a triangle made up of the DfT, Network Rail and the TOC’s.

And it takes them too long to process claims – they took over a month to tell me that my two train journey only arrived 28 min late (my watch indicated it was just over 30 min) so I wasn’t due any compensation. My view is that the rules need to be changed so that it is 50% compensation for 15 to 30 min late and 100% for delays over 30 min, and that they should respond in writing within two weeks or be penalized further. I recently used a train in Malaysia – I was told that it would run exactly to time, and indeed it did. Perhaps we can learn from how trains are run in other parts of the world where compensation systems are not needed.

How can the RR be ubiased when it is financed by the rail companies themselves? It’s like turkeys voting for Christmas!

The only way these railway companies are going to sit up and run a proper service is when we have a government with some teeth and an interest in everyday people. Fine these these companies really heavily and if they have to be fined again take their license off them. They make passengers suffer, make them hurt.
But at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be about compensating passengers, it should be about train companies running a service fit for purpose!! On time and seating for everybody. People pay extortionate prices for train journeys and get no value for money. Our roads are jammed up with cars, because we have a very expensive unreliable train service in this country.

Andy Crawley says:
19 March 2016

If you want a seat reserve one, it’s available whenever you book a ticket and that’s what most people have to do on the continent, certainly for high speed services. It’s a simple fact that trains like buses can only take a certain number of people and once more than that number are on board you have to stand. Trains can only be a certain length due to a whole host of operational reasons and double deckers are not an option in this country as the amount of work required to set up the lines is not remotely cost effective. Costs of changing bridge heights alone would be astronomical.
A vast majority of train delays are caused by operational problems beyond TOCs control and are often down to the sheer volume of traffic on busy routes and the pathing of all trains (including freight). We all wanted more trains and the unfortunate reality is that trains have to be kept a certain distance apart by signalling, and so if one train is held up slightly the domino effect moves backwards meaning more and more delays further down the line. It is an incredibly complex science juggling thousands of train paths on a daily basis and Network Rail signallers HAVE to keep trains in order wherever possible so that the whole system doesn’t get out of sync. Therefore if a freight train (for example) has to be running between points A and B ahead of your passenger train, then if it is a few minutes late they will make the passenger train wait its ‘turn’ and it will also be late in order that the freight train can maintain its path for its journey and not fall even further behind potentially delaying even more trains elsewhere. You’ll find the reality is that the train service is very reliable when taken as a whole with a vast majority of trains arriving on time or near enough on time, yes there are problems but it is nowhere near the extent to which it portrayed. Anyone would think no train ever arrived on time anywhere.
As for value for money it depends where you’re going, as an extreme example try driving to the far north of Scotland from the south for the same cost in a car (just the petrol never mind all the other factors) and all the hassle and aggravation which that can involve. As someone has commented elsewhere it’s actually only around 10% of fares which are at the high cost end, the remaining 90% are quite cheap, and it’s often not really cheaper to travel on the continent either nor are the trains run to some incredible to the second timetable. I spent a week in Germany travelling about by train and never had a single train on time does that make DBS a poor service provider, no it just means they have similar issues to the UK.
I’m not saying train companies can’t do more in some respects, especially with regard to compensation for Passengers, but an awful lot of crap gets thrown their way which is either exaggerated or not even true, and often by people with no idea of what is involved in running a modern railway system.

The whole lot should be re-nationalised and steps be taken to ensure that when it is re-nationalised it is run by competant people, not the usual self-seeking clowns who proliferate in today’s government

What do you expect. They are private companies. Their aim is to provide as low cost service whilst charging as much as they can so the executives and shareholders make as much as possible. Rail users cant choose which company to travel with when they arrive at the station for their daily commute. All they can do is complain. The regulator occasionally sits up when the complaints get too loud. The company throws a few scraps and the regulator sits back pretending they made a difference.