/ Travel & Leisure

Are rail passengers getting a raw deal with delays?

Delayed trains Waterloo

Many regular rail users will be well acquainted with delays and cancellations to their journeys. But how many hours would you have thought have actually been wasted standing around waiting for trains to turn up?

Well according to our latest analysis of the rail regulator’s train delay data, nearly 3.6 million hours were lost to significantly delayed journeys in just one year.

This lost time adds up to over 410 years, and that doesn’t even include delays of less than 30 minutes or over 2 hours.

Train delays

These delays affected more than seven million passenger journeys last year. Virgin Trains East Coast was the train company with the highest percentage of significant delays, with almost 4% (3.7%) of all their passenger journeys delayed for 30 minutes or more affecting nearly 800,000 passenger journeys. It was followed by Virgin Trains West Coast (1.95%) and Grand Central (1.1%).

The train company with the lowest percentage of significant delays was c2c (0.16%), but even in this case, thousands of individual passengers’ journeys were still affected.

These are pretty astonishing figures, but more importantly, than the numbers is the real impact this has people’s lives.

One understandably frustrated commuter, Rory, told us:

‘Most of all I’m furious about all the lost time – time wasted on trying to get home, time I should be spending with my wife and family, the missed meals, drinks, birthdays, meetings, appointments, anniversaries, gigs and cinema trips’.

And the hours lost waiting for or on trains is made even more infuriating when passengers struggle to claim their entitled compensation.

Claiming compensation

Despite the high number of delays, we found that there are still real issues in rail passengers getting compensated.

Our super-complaint to the rail regulator trying to get the industry to address the dysfunctional compensation system was two years ago this month.

Some of you will recall that following our super-complaint the regulator agreed that the situation needed significant improvement. Yet last month we found that two in five (40%) commuter passengers said they still weren’t being told of their rights to compensation the last time they were delayed and would have qualified for compensation. This rose to over half (54%) of leisure passengers surveyed who qualified.

Two years on and train companies are still not putting passengers first. Not enough delayed passengers are being made aware of compensation they’re owed and train companies still need to simplify their often convoluted claiming systems.

Another rail user, Sue, told us:

‘On a journey from Winchester to Brighton my connecting train at Fareham was cancelled. I spent the best part of two very cold hours sitting on an outside bench because there was no waiting room.

‘I submitted a claim the next day and received a reply more than a month later telling me it had been rejected because it was outside the 28-day allowable time period. I persisted and eventually received vouchers, which I did not want as I don’t plan to repeat the experience any time soon.’

Impact of delays

Rail passengers have told us about the serious impact train delays can have on their lives, and our analysis of the regulator’s data shows just how long passengers spent stuck on, or waiting for, trains that are very late or don’t even turn up at all.

The progress to date to improve the situation for passengers is simply not good enough. If train companies don’t inform people of their rights and can’t simplify unnecessarily complex claiming systems, then the government must press for automatic compensation to be introduced in order to ensure that all passengers get what they are owed.

Have you experienced delayed trains recently? How often are you delayed and what impact do delays have on you? Have you had trouble claiming for a delay or cancellation? Do you back our call for automatic compensation?

Do you claim for a train delay or cancellation when you're owed compensation?

Yes - always (28%, 398 Votes)

No I don't claim (28%, 387 Votes)

Sometimes - I can't always be bothered (23%, 328 Votes)

I haven't experienced a delay or cancellation (21%, 292 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,405

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Is the Pope catholic?

Given the need for rail safety, it is always better to arrive late in this world, as opposed to arriving unduly early in the next one.

I am opposed to any kind of compensation (or other financial) culture that may impose undue time pressure on those responsible for the maintenance of safe transport networks (be they rail, sea, air or road).

Having rattled around on Italian railways quite a lot in the last few years I can honestly say I enjoy the experience but would not want to have to do it every day. The fares seem quite low but the condition of the track is poor in many places giving low speeds [with plenty of clickety-clack] and the interiors of some of the vehicles are fairly basic. They have some swish trains on prestige routes, as do the French and German railways, but on many local and rural services conditions are not wonderful.

On the prestige routes, all over the continent, advance booking is usually obligatory so the trains don’t suffer the overcrowding that ours do and they have much more commodious luggage provision – that is one area where we are falling badly behind, as well as seat pitch. Our trains not only have much smaller internal dimensions [for historical reasons] but also have a much denser seating layout making them feel cramped even when only half loaded. I would say the seats on our suburban trains are more comfortable, however, since you always get reasonable upholstery in the UK, whereas on continental commuter stock there are often metal or hard plastic seats.

There are thousands of new carriages on order in the UK at the moment and due to come into service over the next two years. We shall then have the youngest fleet in Europe [it’s already under the average age] and offering a major increase in capacity. By 2020 all trains, of whatever age, will have to be compliant with disabled access requirements, have high-grade public information displays, announcements, and audible warnings, have accessible toilets [where toilets are provided, which includes many additional routes], and automatic doors. They will also have at-seat power points and free wi-fi. What nobody seems to have thought of, though, is to enable passengers to communicate directly with the guard/conductor/on-board supervisor from their seat via their phone. I expect the RMT would oppose it anyway [or perhaps they already did and the idea was dropped].

We should be careful to put statistics in context, so they can be better understood and criticised. The Intro refers to “These are pretty astonishing figures,“. The Which? press release (29/12) quotes ” significant delays of at least 30 minutes affected 7,188,529 passenger journeys last year.“. Of course we’d want this improved, and the figures sound “pretty astonishing”. However, it might have helped if Which? had pointed out that these delays affected 0.4% of travellers. I neither condone the delays nor support the TOCs, but I think we should present data in perspective.

The minuscule percentage astonishes me, Malcolm. Is this really such a high campaigning priority, one might ask.

“This lost time adds up to more than 400 years, and that doesn’t even include delays of less than 30 minutes or more than 2 hours.” Which?

I find it very disheartening that statistical tricks are used to bolster a cause. The 400 years is a sleight of hand, it relates to no one person. It ignores that it is quite likely that some of the people would have been reading, watching something, or even talking to friends so “lost time” is perhaps overstating the case.

On more misleading statistics – watching, or more likely waiting for TV adverts to end, each night probably equates to more “lost” time than most people find acceptable. For arguments sake say 30 minutes per evening times 8 million people is over 13,333 years “lost” each night.

Perhaps there are too many adverts and we should have less? Campaign anyone?
* “The figures show that the number of ads that people watch on commercial TV were up 4.9% year on year in the first quarter from 45 a day to 48. This is up 22% over the past five years”. 2010

I do understand it is frustrating that trains are delayed but our rail system is incredibly complex and it is inevitable that small incidents can have snowball effects far in excess of what a rail user can forsee. I doubt deeply that the rail system can be made that will be 100% reliable and for all the extra expensive effort to get closer to an unobtainable goal the costs rise exponentially. The vast majority of railusers I suspect are happy to trade off cheaper fares against the cost of marginal improvements.

The idea of a unified rail system, properly ring-fenced from politicians and City slickers, does seem a more achievable idea that absolute reliability.

German punctuality

I suspect German railways were remodelled heavily after the war with little legacy stuff left. They also have a bigger land mass to run over, and no city anywhere near the size of London to supply with workers daily.

Quite right, Patrick. German railways have had massive investment post-reunification because, following partition after WW2, the railways were reoriented North South with few connections between the Deutsche Bundesbahn [DB – West Germany] and the Deutsche Reichsbahn [DR – East Germany]. From 1993 onward great efforts have been made to link cities in the west with those in the east. Until recently, high speeds and frequent services were not features of the German system unlike in the UK where the tracks are packed with many trains every hour in each direction.

When the new Thameslink service fully gets going between the south coast and Peterborough there will be 24 trains per hour, each way, on the two tracks through central London to various destinations north and south. This is tube train frequency. Because of the complexities of feeding so many trains through a single point the build-up to the full service will be gradual, but if everything goes to plan it should be 2019 when the maximum practical timetable will be introduced. Getting the presentation of all these trains at the numerous junctions in the correct order is the major challenge. Fingers crossed. It’ll make all the inconvenience around the engineering works at London Bridge seem worth while.

And we are looking at another potential chokepoint. Fingers crossed indeed.

Details of some of what is planned here.

As an ex-user of the Caterham/Oxted/E Croydon route I am slightly taken aback that all of this is deemed necessary. Seems to me that perhaps getting people not to travel distances to work, to uncentralise UK economic life from central London, and organise better home working, with perhaps satellite offices for meetings might all cost less then £10bn.

I am certainly in favour of that. So many organisations want to be in central London because they think there is some magic spin-off from being close to Whitehall. There isn’t.

How charities can justify expensive London head offices I don’t know. I was thinking this when I was writing out some envelopes the other week: Why am I supporting organisations that are wasting their money on the highest rents in the world?

They shouldn’t fear a talent drain if they move out a hundred miles or so. There might be a short term inconvenience but they would soon recover. Since it is easy to work and communicate on the train now en route to the occasional London meeting there really is no excuse at all. Most provincial cities and large towns have plenty of vacant office space.

One thing I did pick up from an interview this morning was that ticket price increases are tied to the Retail Price Index (RPI). However, most government and local authority pensions, for instance, and other boundary trip points in government services where the money is outgoing are tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

The difference is that the RPI is always higher than the CPI so perhaps it’s time one of these indices was eliminated. Might not seem that important but it is representative of how the Tories consistently skew things in their favour. They claim rail fare ticket increases are tied to ‘the rate of inflation’ but they always forget to mention which rate of inflation…

You are right, Ian. The coalition government introduced the CPI because the RPI wasn’t giving them the justification they needed for some of their adjustments to costs and charges. Although it is independently set and probably reliable within its definition it is unfair to have a choice of indices according to what suits the government at the time. Ideally there should be one standardised index of inflation against which can be determined wages, prices, benefits, taxes, rents, national insurance, fares, charges, licence fees, excise duties, and so on. It might be argued that such an index would be self-propelling and would feed off itself but that would ignore the powerful influence on inflation of interest rates, world commodity prices, and international exchange rates. I don’t know why such questions do not come under the guidance or authority of the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Another trick played by the government with the railways was to take Network Rail’s expenditure off the government’s books and isolate it as if it were a standalone corporate entity and not an organisation of government. This was achieved by various forms of constitutional adjustment creating a sort of company that wasn’t a company and revolving around the use of a notional and unrealistic assessment of Network Rail’s ‘regulatory asset base’ against which borrowing could be amortised even though railway assets were not tradable in any conventional sense; this was against the misgivings of the Office of National Statistics but was allowed nevertheless. Subsequently, when it suited the government to clip Network Rail’s wings and bring it under more direct control of the Department for Transport, the ONS protested that its expenditure then had to be counted against the national budget provisions and the government reluctantly conceded the point. This has led to a major financial problem for NR limiting its capital expenditure in line with specific financial provisions and their timescales. No longer can NR say it can spend more because it is increasing its asset value. This is good in general because it imposes tighter financial discipline on Network Rail but in the transitional period it has led to a stop-go approach to major capital works. Picking and choosing which financial mechanism to employ to suit the mood of the moment is not a responsible approach to national infrastructure provision.

The Conservative-led governments don’t have a monopoly on such behaviour, however; the Private Finance Initiative pioneered by Labour was another piece of economic manipulation that has cost the country dear but failed to deliver all the goods.

A new Government policy for determining increases in regulated fares was introduced in
2004. The policy means that regulated fares have a maximum % increase set by an annually
determined cap. The cap for 2014 will be set equal to July 2013’s RPI of 3.1%.
Between 2004 and 2013 regulated fares were capped at RPI+1% point,

Yes, the government u-turned on the RPI+1% policy and capped all regulated fare rises at a maximum of RPI only [it’s not obligatory, note, but find one that doesn’t!], but the problem is that doing that mid-term through many franchises has upset the revenue forecasts and thus the profit calculations the TOC’s tendered for their franchises. The one thing that companies look for is stability and continuity of the ground rules throughout long-term contracts. The whole railway franchising system is a mess and not fit for the purpose that is so secret that no one can articulate it.

You’re certainly right about PFI, John. I’ve long wondered how they came to use that at all.

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said fares had increased at a “truly staggering” rate, and had risen three times more quickly than wages since the start of the first David Cameron government.

Aslef union members voted four to one to accept the deal from Southern, which promises them a 28.5 per cent pay rise over five years

Just two unconnected bits of information.

How could you set rail fares? In one way, as with many businesses, you would combine all the costs predicted for the year to come, add an agreed margin to produce profit, and divide by the total number of expected passenger miles (or km). That gives you a rate per mile (or km). But clearly with the range of types of traveller, with freight, with many costs imprecisely known, it is not that easy particularly when subsidy is involved. And how many commuters would squeal if they were asked to pay the full rate per mile, or even worse, recover the actual cost of their inefficient use of the system (they require many more trains and staff that are not needed for most of the day). It is just complicated, and which measure of inflation should it be? Only RCI – rail cost inflationn- would really do. Who knows that?

I was told that I did not qualify for compensation because the delay was less than 1 hour. I do not believe that is acceptable. Also they have introduced paper tickets with optical scanners – unfortunately these do not work for season tickets, adding to the delays at stations. What on Earth is wrong with the standard card ticket?

Any excuse not to pay is used by every ( sorry some not all) company hoping you will not take your claim at further ! Many times it works saving them money

I am in favour of railways as a form of transport, particularly for freight to relieve our roads. I am less convinced about subsidising the fares of all passengers, particularly commuters; I would rather see commuting reduced by persuading people to work nearer home and for employers – public and private – to move out of the major conurbations.

The railways are supported by Govt to the tune of £4.8 billion (2015-16) – excluding loans to Network Rail – which, on average, resulted in each passenger mile being subsidised by 5.7p (according to one source). Would passengers like to pay the real cost of their journey?

Many people do not have a rail link between home and place of work. Travellers by car pay the taxman fuel duty, vat, ved, insurance premium tax. Without capital cost I reckon that a car driver pays around 40p a mile. A season ticket Oxford to London is around 20p a mile. Seems, relatively speaking, a bit of a bargain.

If the railways were not subsidised by the government and traffic transferred to the roads, even a small percentage, the road system could not cope, especially the nearer it got to the destination. Subsidising the railways is highly justifiable, and if a government is going to subsidise any segment of the population it’s a good idea to favour those who contribute the most to the economy, the workers.

I don’t dispute that, but what I started off was suggesting we should cut down the need for ever-increasing travel – commuting in particular – by, for example, moving employers away from major concentrations. it would ease pressure on travel, on housing, waste workers far less time, and make their lives pleasanter. It seems a little odd that commuters complain about the occasional delay in their rail journeys, and the effect it has on the leisure time, but do not seem to bother that maybe 660 hours a year are “wasted” commuting – that’s nearly 1 month a year. I’d rather try to recover that lost time.

However, I wonder what would happen if the rail subsidy ceased, and commuters had to pay the real price of their travel? Would they cough up the extra 25%? Would they rethink where they live? Many will have traded off the price of a more distant house for the extra travel cost required. Will they tolerate a road journey (like the vast numbers of other commuters for whom train is not an option? Will they travel by coach? Or will they perhaps choose work and home closer together.,

How will it end, is perhaps a question to answer Can we continue to support ever-increasing rail journeys at peak times, with all the inefficient use of people, infrastructure and rolling stock that requires, or will we need to seek a more sustainable solution? .

I couldn’t agree more John, the cost to the economy as commuters are being priced out of the rail system, coupled with the additional congestion on the road that will ensue will be devastating. With a weak economy, the welfare system will crumble inflicting hardship on societies most vulnerable.

Even if the subsidy were removed, travelling by rail would still seem cheaper than travelling by car, so maybe transfer from rail to road would not take place? It will also probably remain quicker. What it might do is get some people to rethink their work/home/travel balance.

However, the original Convo centred around rail delays. Do we bother about those many who use the roads and suffer delays? The consequences are no different.

Malcolm, in my area there is already much evidence of businesses operating within urban conubations and plenty of evidence of congested local roads at peak times. Smaller towns such as Milton Keynes in Bucks, Bracknell in Berks and Didcot in Oxfordshire for example, all have thriving trading estates employing many local people who need to use their own vehicles to get to work. London commuters who choose to live in green belt rural areas to escape the ‘big smoke’, do so in expectation of a reliable and affordable rail system to get them to work on time, and who can blame them for doing so?

The UK rail system has failed to keep up with innovation and demand and I find it hard to believe that 97% of rail ticket revenue goes towards rail improvement alone. If that were true, then what happens to private investment and government subsidies? Are they running at a loss and if so, why don’t investors pull out of a non profit making market? Unless government are prepared to act by providing more subsidies, at least in the short term, to help build a rail system fit for the 21st century, I don’t hold out too much hope for a new prosperous independent country under Brexit.

The present infrastructure is congested and a complete shambles. An efficient rail system is crucial to the future prosperity of this country and dedicated rail commuters have become the new cash cows of a system that has failed to keep up with modern times.

It is those who live in Milton Keynes and such places who travel to London that overload the existing railways, but they do so in full knowledge of the congestion and consequent possible delays. I’d like to see working hours staggered to extend peak times and reduce congestion and the inefficient demands made on rail and road.

Can you link to the information that “97% of rail ticket revenue goes toward rail improvement alone”? For 2015-16, from a total rail revenue of £18.4bn GB passenger fare revenue was £9.4bn, passenger train operation cost £6.44bn(68%) and £5.9bn funded Network Rails operations.

“The present infrastructure is congested and a complete shambles. An efficient rail system is crucial to the future prosperity of this country and dedicated rail commuters have become the new cash cows of a system that has failed to keep up with modern times.”

I fear Beryl that you are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The reason we have major problems is because we have a system where millions of people are drafted into London. For the £10bn on offer and with a policy of disincentives for London offices we surely could start remodelling the country to lessen the inequality of opportunity and income across it. There is surely added benefit in having articulate and clever people spread across the country who may take an interest in local politics and charities.

The UK seemed to do better when major cities existed in their own right with enough decision makers with vested local interests helped local government and communities to be effective. The stripping of powers to London in the 20th century seems overall to be an impoverishment.

Of course basic industries may have changed but there are many workers in London doing jobs that are transferable. A benefit of all the new communication systems in place surely could be the revitalising of distant regions by moving the jobs out of London.

Taking CA/Which? as an example they have been expanding HO next to Regents Park and have apparently sold the Bedford office. So perhaps 500 staff are employed in central London in jobs that do not require a London presence – and many of these are commuting a distance to work. Surely this is daft?

“An efficient rail system is crucial to the future prosperity ” needs to be deconstructed to explain how or why this is so. And does the ability to travel from say Bedford to Brighton quickly genuinely have economic benefits?

If the amount of commuting is lessened perhaps we actually already have a reasonable and efficient system?!

A case in point :


” The Leeds Supertram bill was first discussed in the House of Commons in 1991. I was six years old. The UK economy was three times the size of China’s. The first new buildings at Canary Wharf had not yet been completed, and debates to extend the Jubilee line there were just beginning.

Today China’s economy is well over three times the size of the UK’s. Canary Wharf has new tube stations and light rail stations. Its new Crossrail station will open in 2018.

There is still no tram in Leeds. It is the largest city in the EU with no mass transport system. Its twin city of Lille, very similar in many ways, has two metro lines, two tram lines, and international high-speed rail connections. Leeds has nothing.”

We seem far too focused on developing London. I’m not convinced about new tram systems as they seem hugely expensive – Edinburgh fiasco for example. I’d go for electric buses with park and rides around the perimeter of large conurbations perhaps.

I can still remember the arrival of the Metro in Tyne & Wear.

Most of the system was built using (or replacing) former suburban railway lines. That probably helped to keep costs reasonable. As a user, I found the system to be an excellent way of getting around.

Patrick Taylor, I think our telescopes are perhaps fitted with difference lens, rather than pointing the wrong way round.

London has been a leading international financial centre since the 19th century. For much of this time it had been a major centre of lending and investment around the world during the 20th century and played an important role in the development of new financial products such as the European Market in the 1960’s and derivatives in the 1990’s. English contract law was adopted widely for international finance with legal services provided in London and financial institutions located there provided services internationally such as Lloyds of London for insurance and the Baltic Exchange for shipping. Global financial ranking In March 2017 was as follows:

1 London
2. New York City
3. Singapore
4. Hong Kong
5. Tokyo
6. San Francisco
7. Chicago
8. Sydney
9 Boston
10 Toronto
(Source en.m.wikipedia.org – Financial Centre)

To decentralise Londons international financial prowess and strong hold to the provinces would weaken its global reputation and grip with devastating consequences.

Malcolm if you have watched tonight’s news you will be aware that 97p in every £1 spent on rail tickets is claimed to be put back into rail improvements.

Beryl, I doubt the TOCs – who pay their staff, provide the rolling stock, pay access charges, etc would be happy to do this for 3p in the £1. Somewhere there appears to be a misunderstanding. I’ve given a broad breakdown above of where the fare revenue goes.

The breakdown (National Rail) below shows where every pound of income from fares goes:

26p – Investment into the rail network
25p – Industry staff costs
22p – Maintaining track and trains
11p – Leasing trains
9p – Interest payments and other costs
4p – Fuel for trains
3p – Train company profits

The announcement was made by Paul Plummer CEO of RDG (Rail Delivery Group) “97p in every £1 goes towards running and improving rail services” It’s evidently not enough, hence the need for more private investment and govt subsidies. The system is pricing itself out if the market if commuters can no longer afford to use it. That is a fundamental principle of all business.

I am all in favour of the relocation of employment away from conurbations, changing work patterns, staggering the hours of work, and other measures with the same purpose, but this will take a long time to achieve. More relief is needed now and the railway has to take the strain in the short term because the roads are already saturated. Longer trains, more frequent services, and additional lines are the only way to do it but they require vast investment. Longer trains require additional carriages, longer platforms, changes to signalling, and more depot and siding space. More frequent services require more track capacity, especially at junctions, and might also require upgraded power supplies [on electrified services] and changes to stopping patterns. Additional lines are the most problematic but it is incredible how much extra capacity has been squeezed into London by remodelling the approaches to stations [Waterloo, London Bridge, and Kings Cross in 2019] and by developing Thameslink and Crossrail that will take services away from the existing routes by going underground in order to provide more terminal capacity [St Pancras, Paddington and Liverpool Street]. Improving the London Overground system has diverted millions of passengers away from congested routes onto orbital lines. The problem is that whenever additional capacity comes along it gets filled up rapidly.

A number of strategic decisions need to be made and only government can do that. It’s no good emptying office blocks in London of government workers or others if that amount of work space is not removed from the supply – either by the demolition or change of use of that particular block or by taking out equivalent alternative capacity in older run-down buildings to raise the average standard of working conditions and de-congest the capital and other conurbations.

As railway services have improved over the last few decades people are commuting longer distances, which is inefficient in terms of use of the rolling stock which instead of being able to make three or four return trips into the centre each workday morning can now only make one or two. And as the trains fill up well before they have even reached the M25, additional suburban services need to be operated to pick up passengers from closer in. New towns that were planned and designed to be self-sufficient in terms of work, and even have their own inflow, have become dormitories that now generate high travel demands. Places like Basildon, Crawley, Bracknell, Stevenage and Harlow, and the new city of Milton Keynes, have all demonstrated that trend as well as many other towns that have expanded around London. They have become congestion generators instead of congestion relievers. The digital age should be the golden opportunity to reverse some of these effects and return economic and employment self-sufficiency to the larger towns in the belt around 20 – 30 miles outside the M25. This would relieve the road network as well as the railways.

An unfortunate consequence of the need for people to live closer to their work because of high fares and lost time is the rash of tiny dwellings that are now being constructed wherever there is a patch of land in the outskirts of the city core and within reach of a railway or Underground line, as well as the sub-division of larger properties into smaller units. I feel that this concentration of dense development will become a social problem in years to come.

A multi-pronged attack on the range of problems is required; leaving it to the market and herd instincts to sort out will not work.

That is correct – as only 3p is left for profit, as my figures show. The rest is used for running and improving rail services which are listed in my post 2nd Jan.

Beryl – I did not mention the financial sector in my relocation comments. I did mention a charity though and this sector you have not addressed. The number of general charities with London HQ’s is quite breathtaking especially given the UK public’s antipathy to London HQ’s.

Given for much of my life I was involved in finance I do understand London’s position. However if the Sage of Omaha can do better than the pack where he is I suspect it proves that not all finance has to occur in a big City.

I agree with your sentiments re general charities Patrick, but more for the fact they could make better use of public money and govt subsidies. Also the six figured salaries paid to their CEO’s, an issue that has been raised quite a few times on W/Convo.

If my fare contains and elelment of investment why don’t I get a share of the profit. Why do the operating companies claim to invest when they just lease the trains from the banks who are, of course making the real profit. How much of of this profit is not being recycled in the UK economy. Do we really need a high speed link to Birmingham. There at least 3 routes that could be upgraded to raise capacity at a much lowered cost and the time gained with a high speed link is lost in the nightmare of London suburban services

Your rail ticket cost contributes to the cost of providing the rail service. If you want a share of the profits then put your money at risk by buying shares in those who own train operating companies such as Stagecoach, Go Ahead Group.

…where you can buy parts of a company you once owned as a taxpayer…

The government sold off the taxpayers stake in this, and other enterprises, just as companies sell off their shareholders stakes when taken over. I don’t know how much the sale realised for the taxpayers. It does seem that selling off the franchises was “highly lucrative”. The infrastructure was initially privatised for £1.9 bn but subsequently returned into public ownership.

That information is difficult to find, and the headlong rush to privatise everything including those that that once made a profit for the government certainly made it harder for the passengers in some areas,

I seem to remember being told the government of the time (50s,60s maybe) decided to give most support to the car industry instead of public transport as it would provide more jobs Public transport went down hill from then on as everyone bought cars from the “subsidised ” car industry which was losing money in it effort to sell cars to everyone in the country and did When someone bought a car they HAD to use to go everywhere so pubic transport was not used and it all went downhill quickly Nobody realised then what the result of that decision would be today Expensive public transport Massive pollution in all towns and much more

If next week’s 3 day rail strike goes ahead, will the union(s) responsible be asked to compensate the delayed passengers?

That’s quite a debate to get into, Malcolm. You can argue it’s not the unions but the workers who are withdrawing their labour. After all, they must have a fairly significant mandate to call a strike.

So why should a worker who is withdrawing his labour be forced to compensate a passenger?

Sometimes Ian, I have my tongue in my cheek 🙂 However, the delays will be caused by the union asking their members to take strike action and disrupt the working and leisure time of many other workers. Are the TOCs expected to compensate still?

I wondered about that. I do believe the TOCs get compensated by the Government whenever there’s a strike so I suppose – yes.

It was reported at the end of 2016:
THE TAXPAYER is due to foot the £50million bill incurred by the Southern rail strike, it has emerged, despite the strikes making it impossible for 300,000 commuters to get to work.”
Maybe the figure is much higher now. I don’t know whether Govia is a special case.
This kind of government/TOC/Union warfare should be resolved by more sensible means than causing the disruption on such a massive scale. So far the result seems to be a settlement by giving the drivers a 28% pay rise over 5 years. I don’t see that as settling the core problem, but maybe money was the real “driver”?

The real driver I suspect is political. If a 28% pay rise over 5 years doesn’t solve the core problem then it must be a continuous and enduring politically motivated attempt by the Transport Unions to disrupt the whole rail network, with no let up until it is finally forced to become nationalised.

If a train doesn’t run then no compensation is payable.

I don’t think the government generally compensates the train operating companies in the event of a strike because it might be an industrial dispute over a company policy or decision which the company should settle through negotiation. The government would prefer to stand back and let public pressure, the effluxion of time, and lost wages lever a settlement.

In the case of my local franchised train company, Greater Anglia, RMT members have voted to strike because the company will not give a pledge to retain guards with the door control function when the new trains with a driver door control facility come into service over the next two years. The company has promised that they will always employ two staff [driver plus conductor/on-board supervisor] and that no employees will be made redundant. It is amazing how willing the staff are to carry on withdrawing their labour on such a fine point in these days of such crippling austerity. Something like half the company’s trains – those currently serving the commuter routes in Greater London and Essex – already run with driver-only operation. Luckily because many management and supervisory grade staff have been trained to operate in place of the conductors who are striking there has been little impact on services for the public. The company is making a saving on wages.

The government is compensating Southern Railway during strikes because it set up a management contract instead of a franchise to cover changes resulting from the cross-London Thameslink operation and the integration of Southern, Thameslink, and Great Northern services in order to avoid operating conflicts and service delivery difficulties. As a result of the strikes the company has lost money and rather than have the TOC default on its contract the government is bailing it out. Some people think the government pressure to reduce operating costs is the underlying cause of the dispute. Using the availability of modern technology to changing the guard from a train door keeper at the far end of the train to a supervisor able to collect fares and assist passengers is seen as a more productive use of the human resource.

It does appear that Southern struck a deal with the Government:

“It has emerged that, because of a deal struck with Southern by the Government, the cost of the disruption will be borne by the taxpayer.

Under the terms of the deal, the Government will pick up the tab for a £38 million fall in fare revenue and will pay out up to £15 million in compensation to passengers.

Meanwhile, Govia Thameslink Railway, the company that runs Southern, is saving an estimated £1.1 million in pay for train drivers and conductors who are out on strike this week.”

So it would seem that the TOCs actively save a lot of money by not running trains and that compensation of non-running trains through strike action is paid – by the Government. Which, ultimately, is us. Nice work if you can get it.

Agreed, Ian. It’s a shabby situation made possible by the unusual contractual relationship on Southern Railway whereby the government has – not necessarily intentionally – created a monster railway operating contract that is too big to be allowed to fail. This is a first, and I don’t think this bail-out would apply elsewhere under normal franchising arrangements . . . but who knows? We can never say never. The whole thing was badly mishandled from the start. The government’s move was no doubt also designed to prove to the trade unions that they will not be able to bring a train operating company down. Sadly it’s taxpayers’ money they are playing this hardball game with.

A further point in that dispute is that the central issue, the use of the driver to operate the doors and the implied redundancy of guards, is a vital point of principle for the DfT that would have adverse repercussions across the entire network if the operating company capitulated and conceded under the duress of industrial action. Now that the drivers’ union, ASLEF, has bargained with their cooperation in the door-closing dispute and accepted a pay settlement of 28% over five years there is no way the government or the company are going to put their hand in their pocket a second time on the same issue.

Obviously the RMT are not happy that ASLEF has left them high and dry but the issue is so important to the RMT [because other operators are buying new trains that enable the driver to operate the doors] that they are prepared to go to the wall over it and they have their members’ support. Failure to win the overall struggle with the government threatens the overall power of the RMT and their ability to close down large parts of the system in pursuit of pay and conditions improvements for their members. Unfortunately, passengers are caught in the crossfire.

“An important aspect in why it has gone so terribly wrong is the unique contract Southern Trains is running under. Most rail franchises keep the revenue from fares, but Govia Thameslink Railway, Southern’s umbrella company, just runs the service and gives revenue directly to the Department for Transport.

This has two important implications. Firstly, this means they don’t get fined when they cancel trains, as other franchises do. It’s the Department of Transport that shoulders the losses…..

Secondly, rail companies have traditionally avoided confrontation with staff as any strike will hit their profits. But with this special contract, it’s actually the government who loses money, which means Govia have been able to try to instigate ideological working practices without any concern for profits.”

It’s quite incredible, but I can understand the government making such a basic error. After all, it’s not as if they have any skilled lawyers in Parliament…

I doubt it was an “error” but, for whatever reason, they framed this contract in a different way. It might be explained in the contract itself, but life is too short to read the 672 pages of the agreement. If anyone is bored, here is the link https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/govia-thameslink

This may be the reason: “The franchise has an unusual structure: it is a management contract where fare income does not go to GTR. Instead GTR is paid a fee for operating the service, and consequently the company carries less revenue risk. This form of franchise was chosen because of long-term engineering works anticipated around London, which would be a significant challenge to organise within the normal form of franchise.”

Wonder if it ever occurred to them that keeping that area in public ownership or even giving the entire franchise to TFL might not have been a better way forward?

Where does that quote come from, Malcolm? I was not aware that franchised TOC’s were fined for train cancellations, most of which are due to circumstances outside the operator’s control [like weather, bridge strikes, signalling failures, track problems, and suicides].

I am also surprised by the reference to “ideological working practices”. There is nothing innovative or ideological in what Southern Railway were trying to achieve [and have succeeded in doing] since driver-controlled door operation is the norm on many commuter routes and indeed many services are run entirely by driver-operation only [DOO] trains where there is no other member of staff on board. Southern was at least intending to have an on-board supervisor on every train except in exceptional and specified circumstances forming part of their employees’ conditions of service. This was intended to provide a more useful support for passengers throughout the train. I believe nearly all of Southern’s former guards have now transferred to the new contract, albeit under protest and in the face of certain redundancy otherwise, and from the passenger’s point of view there have been few problems.

My concern with the new arrangements was whether there was a guarantee of sufficient platform staff to assist in the despatch of trains especially where there were curved platforms and large numbers of passengers. In my view there should be a publicly accessible risk assessment for every station served by trains under the driver’s control [irrespective of the possible presence of supervisors or conductors]. Luckily, during the inbound commuter peaks, most trains are only taking on additional passengers at each stop with few getting off, and at the busiest stations where there is a two-way flow there are usually a number of platform staff on duty. The regular and repetitive nature of commuter journeys does in itself make for a safer railway so long as familiarity does not engender complacence.

I think it was a reasonable policy decision to structure the contract in the way it has been done and amalgamate the three Thameslink operators . It’s over twenty years since the services were in public ownership and much has changed since. The government would not have wanted TfL to take the services over as it has already denied TfL’s request to take over other suburban routes that go too far beyond the Greater London boundary. Brighton to Peterborough with many branches would have been a stretch too far.

I was not concerned with any idealogy involved, but to see whether the franchise agreement that Govia had differed from others.

John, “ I was not aware that franchised TOC’s were fined for train cancellations, most of which are due to circumstances outside the operator’s control”

Network Rail say 60% of delays are down to them “Around 60 per cent of passenger delays are attributed to us. As well as infrastructure faults, this includes delays caused by vandalism, cable theft, weather and trespass, which account for around 20 per cent of the total.“. The TOCs are presumably responsible for the rest, that may be due to staff shortage, rolling stock failure, for example.

Thanks, Malcolm. It was an interesting read although facts and opinions were rather intertwined.

The GTR deal was certainly very different from the normal franchise as well as from other management contracts. It is the whole question of who carries the revenue risk that undermines the rationale for franchises. The government must either pass it on to the private sector [and bear the consequences in terms of lower bids and the contingency of operator default] or carry the risk itself, in which case franchises are unnecessary and an operating concession with performance penalties is a more appropriate model.

The deal was, the government will pay £8.9bn to Govia, a subsidiary of a joint venture between the British Go-Ahead Group 65% and a French Company Keolis 35% over the course of the seven year franchise, with the government expecting to receive around £12.4bn back in ticket sales from Govia by the end of the franchise. The new contract reduced the chances of rail operators “handing back the keys” to the government as happened with the East Coast Mainline.

It would seem the government are already well and truly involved with UK market profit margins. The plot thickens!

I think we are at risk of mixing up delays [for which compensation is available to passengers under certain circumstances and irrespective of where the cause lay], and cancellations which do not normally attract a penalty but could lead to compensation if a service is terminated or cancelled en route. Cancellations don’t lead to a fine so far as I am aware and there is no compensation to passengers who might have been on a train if it had been running. Compensation doesn’t apply either to passengers waiting on the platform for a train that has been delayed or cancelled. It is only the progress of the train and its arrival time at its destination that determines compensation. It is true that a bad performance record with no signs of improvement could lead to a TOC being fined by the Regulator [Office of Rail and Road] and such a record would prejudice any future franchise bid. If Network Rail is the cause of a cancellation then there is no doubt a claim from the affected TOC(s) for any extra expenditure, operational disruption, and loss of revenue but there is no reimbursement to intended passengers.

The franchise departs from previous models, with Govia now handing over revenue to the government rather than paying set premiums. Instead, the DfT will pay Govia a flat fee of around £8.9bn over the seven years, from expected revenues of £12.4bn – effectively generating a total premium of £3.5bn from Govia in traditional terms.

The train operator expects to make a 3% profit. Risks on costs will be Govia’s, while the DfT will profit or lose from fluctuations in revenue.

However, you’d need to look at all the financials involved and where the Governments possible surplus goes. Network Rail presumably absorbs a good deal of money. Maybe their is a rail industry expert out their who could give us an expert view, or maybe Which? could ask for a contribution from the ORR – Office of Rail and Road.

Governments received a net payment from TOCs in each of the last six years, receiving £817 million in 2015-16, which is the largest amount received since the time series started in 1985-86. On average, for every passenger kilometre travelled in Great Britain, governments received 1.3p in franchise premiums in 2015-16, which was the same as the previous year. The majority of government funding was in direct rail support,
which is the grant payment to Network Rail. This was £4.0 billion in 2015-16, an increase of £197 million on 2014-15.

The plot thickens alright, Beryl. The government could have stepped in at any time and pulled Govia back from pushing ahead with the changes to working practices but it wanted them to go ahead regardless as a point of principle; it could also have met the trade unions and tried to achieve a settlement but it declined to do so. Govia was effectively a puppet in the dispute because the government had bought its cooperation through the contractual arrangement.

The DfT can’t lose if ticket sales continue to rise, unless of course they price themselves out of the market in the event of people not being able to sustain the continual increases in ticket sales, unless their incomes rise proportionately ie – over and above the rate of inflation, which is highly unlikely with the present austerity measures and uncertainty over Brexit……………….and then there are the unions still arguing about driver only operated trains!!!

Would we want to Government to lose? Costs of providing services increase, represented by the rate of inflation. We need to fund those increased costs. Rail travel costs around 20p a mile. Using your car costs around £1 a mile, We can reduce our cost of rail travel by not travelling so far and, at the same time, reduce both delays and the time wasted on making commuting journeys. It seems to me we should not avoid solutions that will take time to implement, such as relocation of work and home, staggered working hours for example just because they do not give an immediate quick fix. Had we done this 10 years ago we might be better-placed now.

I suspect the real problem in all of this is unreliable statistics and figures. It’s been my experience that no two sets of statistics allegedly about the same concern ever agree, and are often wildly out. The rail business is financially extremely complex, so it’s well nigh impossible to see who’s making or losing money. The real answer, I suspect, is for the government to exert a great deal more control over the business as a whole and that could mean renationalisation or, as seems the better bet, form private and quoted companies, majority owned by the Government, working to make a profit on behalf of all taxpayers. It wouuodn’t be the old style nationalisation but a completely new style of pubic and government stock-market enterprise.

I agree that government should have a great deal more control over business, at least where essential services are concerned.

What would we want government to control ? They lay down the franchise terms upon which TOCs take up contracts. The TOCs on the whole seem to do a good job of running their services, and are already subject to price controls and the infrastructure provided by Network Rail. It is easy to imagine that somehow the government has the people to wave a magic wand and abolish all the problems; that I think is a fantasy. They have proved to be incompetent at many of the ventures they undertake – software contracts, defence projects, all with huge overspends and seeming lack of control. I’d rather they tried to sort out major issues like the NHS, Brexit, international relations, trade agreements than meddle in areas where they have no expertise.

Would you be keen on an end to the NHS too?

Any compensation for 1 month delays on operations?

Privately run rail companies terms are being controlled by government bidding practices and so is the NHS, although probably to a lesser extent.

I can only vouch for the latter as I was actively involved in one some time ago. I would stress however, patient care was extensively investigated and prospective providers well vetted at the time which took precedence over finance. Problems however are inevitable after large contracts have been signed and dependent upon the T&C’s contained therein, but they are not insurmountable with the correct application of rational communication and negotiation skills, sadly lacking it would seem in matters relating to UK public transport systems.

The problem with the rail system, as I perceive it is; with so many private fingers involved in the successful operation of a large service industrys pie, tensions are bound to arise. It only takes one dissatisfied contracted operator to break up a system that is wholly dependent upon the others to continue its smooth operation which then becomes an invitation to left wing political union activists to add fuel to the fire by complicating an issue with such trivialities as driver only trains that have been updated and modified with advanced technological innovative systems that have replaced the old type slamming doors with sliding ones that can be operated by the press of a button without the need of a guard to ensure no doors are left open that could cause accident or injury to passengers standing on platforms.

As far as the NHS is concerned, It’s been my experience that the demand for beds is always going to outnumber the supply, especially at this time of year with viruses hungarily seeking out new victims to latch onto, as long as we continue to depend upon it through bad eating and drinking practices and lack of exercise.

People are living longer through advances in high priced pharmaceutical medication produced by companies that continue to drain the NHS of funding that could be put to better use for those who really need it with inherited genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, chromosome adnormality and mental health issues such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders and of course, not forgetting the very frail and elderly.

There seems to be a shortage of Conversations to discuss the NHS. Perhaps the most obvious problem we have as a result of contracting out services is poor cleaning in hospitals. Here is an old report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7372992.stm A fair amount is being done behind the scenes to tackle the excessive charges for prescription drugs. Once drugs are out of patent the price can fall dramatically.

Railways didn’t come to an end.

Strikes never hit the intended they always hit the General public every time