/ Travel & Leisure

Win! Your rail complaints can’t be ignored for much longer

WIN! The rail regulator will soon require all train companies to participate in a free-to-use ombudsman scheme to handle passenger complaints. We’ve been calling for this extra level of redress to protect your rights for some time, so will this change help you?

The new rail ombudsman will be responsible for investigating customer complaints when train companies have failed to take action.

If the ombudsman identifies valid complaints and claims that the train company has disregarded, then the ombudsman will be able to overrule the train company’s decision.

We hope that this ombudsman will help to improve standards across the industry, as well as ensure that your complaints can no longer be ignored by train companies.

Rail passenger rights

Back in the early days of our rail campaign in 2015, we called for an overhaul of the compensation system. Our research identified a sorry picture of misinformation with passenger rights, failure to compensate and a poor picture of people claiming compensation for an unsatisfactory service.

Our super-complaint to the rail regulator convinced the regulator to take action and review the system.

We then raised concerns over the standards of service across the industry – highlighting stories of regular delays and cancellations, dirty trains and overcrowded services. We urged the industry to improve, but flagged that an ombudsman to handle complaints could encourage better standards.

Fight for compulsory rail ombudsman

Over 100,000 people have supported our rail campaign calling for improvements to rail services. Last summer, we celebrated a mini-win for the campaign as the industry announced that an ombudsman would be on its way, but disappointingly this would have been a voluntary scheme. This wouldn’t be enough to improve standards across the industry.

The rail regulator has revealed today that it will make it mandatory for train operators to meet the standards set out by the Ombudsman Association, and this will be supported by legislation. So, this will essentially make the voluntary ombudsman scheme a compulsory ombudsman.

Most importantly for passengers who have complaints to make against a rail company – the ombudsman will be free, independent and able to make decisions that are binding on the rail company.

This new ombudsman should give you the confidence to ensure that if you aren’t happy with the way your complaint has been handled by the train company there is another route to be heard.

Complain for change

Thousands of you have shared your stories of nightmare services you’ve had to endure. We hope this scheme, which is expected to start later this year, will get the wheels turning on improving trains services across the industry.

Have you had a complaint about a train service that was poorly handled? Was your complaint successful? Do you think this new rail ombudsman will lead to improved train services?


I am not a regular traveller on trains and when I do, I’m happy with the service. Not everyone is so lucky and hopefully the new ombudsman service will be of help.

It would be interesting to know how effective other ombudsman services have been since they were set up.

UK Ombudsman services are surely good news for us consumers.
In my experience, the Financial Ombudsman has been most helpful over the years – pretty good at resolving unsatisfied insurance claims, for instance.
The Energy Ombudsman’s also very useful, and OfWat, too.

‘Wave’ is a character* in a novel I’ve just read – and you’re jolly lucky to live in an area which enjoys a good train service. As you say myriad people are, indeed, not so fortunate.

Part of my luck might be down to the fact that I’m usually able to avoid peak times. We hear a lot less criticism of ombudsman services than of the regulators. When we pay for a service we deserve good service and it would save a fortune in compensation.

I like yourself don’t use the rail service a great deal however my son travels into London on a daily basis and I often pick him up from the station and I would guess three out of the five days he’s late home. It will be interesting to see how much wriggle room this ombudsman will give to the rail companies after a year or so. Call me sceptical but little is done these days to help commuters and I can’t see this helping in the long term.

This has come too late for me. I am now too old to be considered for this job.

It may be experience that counts rather than age, John.

Cneo says:
9 February 2018

If this new ombudsman service is Transport Focus then it’s worse than useless. This organisation literally just forwards your complaint and then the rail company’s back to you. Nothing else.

David ridden says:
9 February 2018

I used the trains to get into London everyday for over a year and they were an absolute pain ALWAYS late ALWAYS overcrowded a lot of the time you can’t even get on. The final straw was Xmas 2016 when there was a queue out of the main entrance at st pancreas going northbound and no one offered any help or any clarity. I’ve used my car ever since. Parking is expensive but it’s better than the pathetic service of the trains.

What the passengers, sorry customers, really want is a reliable, safe, punctual and comfortable service at a reasonable price. In this unlikely event there would be much less need for an ombudsman and a complaints/refund procedure. Given what has happened on the East Coast line in recent years, there may well be a groundswell of public opinion in favour of nationalisation. At the moment there are more cowboy outfits in the railway industry than there ever were in John Wayne’s wardrobe. I speak as a long-standing (sometimes literally),
unwilling financial benefactor of Connex, Southeastern, Thameslink and Great Northern et al, and as an employee who has taken flak from managers at work for my alleged “poor timekeeping” who do not appreciate that the public transport system in this country is not fit for purpose. My heart goes out to the poor people who have to rely on Southern’s truly abysmal “service”.

Peter says:
9 February 2018

We hear quite a lot about train and underground problems in London but very little is heard about the service between Harrogate and York. This is provided by Northern Trains about one per hour during the week but it doesn’t start until 11:30am on Sundays. Part of the route is single track so the train driver has to take into his cab a leather satchel called the “Key” which then allows him to use the track. He hands back the key when he reaches the station at the end of the single track section so that the next train going back can complete its journey. This was the Victorian solution to avoid train crashes and remains in use today.

By the way there is no alternative bus route as this was withdrawn several years ago.

It is nice to know that we have paid our share towards Crossrail and HS2 and can expect better service as result.

Old stuff often works pretty well though – you don’t have to reboot the token. Not heard of any rail crashes between Harrogate and York recently.

Eva Simmons says:
9 February 2018

Unheated trains between Cambridge and London, in the coldest weather. Not good!

In some parts of the country it’s not so bad. I was returning home and there was an announcement that the heating in one carriage was not working and passengers were invited to move to another carriage where there was plenty of room. I’m surprised that the whole train was affected. That’s not much fun.

David Tyler says:
9 February 2018

Until recently I had to regularly get trains to Paddington from Abergavenny (via Newport). The fact that I used Arriva for the local leg and First for the intercity element meant that noone took responsibility for problems. Example: my train from Paddington to Newport would frequently get in about 5 minutes or more late – which meant I missed a connection and had to wait up to an hour for the next (and usually last) train home. FGW were not over an hour late with their service, so took no responsibility – they’d say ‘they won’t hold the Arriva train for you’. One time the missed connection was for the last train, so I and half a dozen other fed-up and tired travellers had to chip in to share a taxi. Of course there was no way to claim any refund/compensation because of the unnecessarily convoluted privatisation of different lines/routes.. I was told this was not uncommon for this late evening service. Nice work for the taxi rank at Newport!

My brother just told me that First Great Western have just re-branded as Great Western Railway. He suggested that it was a reaction to folk deliberately referring to them as “Worst Great Western”…

I thought they had been taken over by Travelbodge.

if I recall correctly, in a previous incarnation, it was God’s Wandering Railway

I have been travelling monthly from Worcester to Paddington with Great Western Railway and I have not had a decent journey yet (by that I mean a journey that isnt late, or full use of first class ticket services – no trolley services available, to not even a first class carriage available! to then having to squeeze 8 carriages into 3 – with no word of apology or reason to commuters). 3 complaints have gone in, 1 has been acknowledged and refund offered (in early January) however still awaiting receipt of said refund.
If its not bad enough that there is only 1 direct train an hour, and it takes well over 2 hours – really does need sorting out.

Shane says:
9 February 2018

Abellio, I think, is the name of the company which runs, among other services, the dreadful Stansted Express. Because I have to commute between Dublin and North London a lot, Stansted is my first choice of airport. But because the service is cancelled most Sundays (that I’ve travelled) for engineering works, I’ve had loads of times when the replacement bus service hasn’t brought me to Tottenham Hale, my destination but has instead brought me to Liverpool Street, often late at night, often with no taxis or other public transport available. I’ve never received anything other than an automated “Back to you soon” email response. Bring on the Ombudsman.

So many train travellers suffer appalling service, but I find the extortionate ticket pricing of even greater concern. More attention needs to be paid to this. Long haul train travel is often astonishingly expensive, pricing many people off the railway. When confronted on ticket pricing, politicians always blather on about cheaper ‘book in advance’ tickets, not recognising that we can’t always plan our travel needs days ahead. No use at all if you have a friend or relative suddenly falling ill, or a short notice job interview to attend, 250 miles away to the north or south.

William says:
9 February 2018

I complained about a couple of delays last summer, one to Virgin Trains and the other to Arriva Trains Wales. In each case I received the expected compensation within a reasonable timescale.

I am very sceptical when it comes to ombudsman I work in the energy sector on behalf of consumers.In my expierance they tend to be a Paper Tiger even when they have reached resolution in the consumer,s favour .When it comes to ensuring compliance they are reluctant to ensure that resolutions are complied with .I am yet to be convinced.

I travel on GWR Penzance -Paddington about once a month. Occasionally, i notice defects in the train and have attempted to report them, quoting set and carriage details. Each time I get a bland pre-formed reply which is clear evidence that my report has not been read by a human being; either that, or the human being who has answered is a half-wit. When i have persisted, i get more bland pacifying statements by return plus a request for the details of the set and carriage details …which I had already supplied and were there in the message string, a few lines up. Ye Gods!
Other than that and the recent price hikes, service is generally good although the buffet service will be sadly missed when the Hitachi 800s replace the HSTs.

J Pick says:
9 February 2018

I have stopped going by train it’s cheaper to fly.

I was on a cross country train that broke down just after leaving Birmingham. We limped back to New Street and had to transfer to another train and arrived 1 hour 10 minutes in York. Sent off the delay repay (100% refund for 1 hour plus).
Had a reply back say it was only 40 minutes late!!
Only when Transport Focus got involved did cross country admit the truth and pay up.

CC Trains: overcrowded, seats uncomfortable, no proper buffet provision (tea made with their trolley service is foul) and very expensive, especially the 1st Class upgrade. I’ve made two delay claims in the past couple of years – one TPE and one Virgin – both settled very promptly. Virgin conductor announced he had forms in his office for passengers to collect if they wished; TPE conductor reminded us to claim.

Gavin Potts says:
9 February 2018

I don’t travel regularly but I can’t help wondering what percentage of delays are the train companies fault and what percentage is infrastucture problems which are outwith the rail operators control.

I have travel 3 times up north from Banbury in Oxfordshire two of times to Blackburn which changing trains twice and can never get seat on train till last part journey from Preston to Blackburn complain about delays always about 5 mins late on the train banbury to Birmingham and on the train Birmingham to preston can never get seat even if iv booked one its that packed cant even get to were it is then have argue with person sat in it sometimes just not worth hassle complain on line just brushed aside because my journey means traveling 3 different service providers cross country/virgin/northern rail so this makes more difficult it can cost about £76 don’t mind paying for good service but not for service I get and I know by the time travel again in August it will gone up again if I had an alternative which either a better service or cheaper I would take it but not feasible from were I live so I’m stuck with paying an extortionate amount for a very poor service while we the tax payer subsidise these private firms because apparently they making money but pay dividends and bonus to share holders and management 😠

If it takes as long as the’ Financial Ombudsman’ takes, in some cases two years, just another job for the boys, and a total waste of time!

Yes, that`s what concerns me, too. It seems that skirting around problems is seen as a solution in UK rather than getting on and solving them. If trains are overcrowded to the point of standing over long journeys, then there is a serious lack of investment in rolling stock. This needs to be addressed by government, making the practice illegal, as it is in other countries.
Complete re-nationalisation of the system and then properly investing it would be two useful start-points.

Caroline Johnson says:
10 February 2018

Travelling from Leatherhead to Ash on a cold wet evening, my friend and I were delayed at every stage of our journey. Train cancelled without notice or explanation, train ran late so we missed our connection, we were well over an hour late getting to Ash, and would have been later if we had not abandoned our intended route and taken a quicker service. Mr friend who had booked the tickets complained – she was able to tick every box on the form; every mishap they could think of had indeed happened to us.The reply was that she was not entitled to any compensation, because the final leg of the journey (not part of our original itinerary) had run to time. She had to perform on their behalf the elementary arithmetic which indicated that we were nearly two hours later reaching our destination than we should have been according to the published timetables. Eventually she obtained some compensation – but only for herself. I had travelled for her benefit and at her expense, but submitting the same form for my identical journey did not produce even an acknowledgement. These rail companies are relying on the fact that most of us are just too busy to spend hours on chasing them – would be great to have them held to account by an official body.

The DfT are instructing TPE to effectively destroy the long distance service between Stalybridge (Tameside M B) and the north east as from May, and travellers will now have to change trains or go to Manchester to travel non stop through Staly about an hour later. Complain and all you get is fingers pointing at government at best, or laughed at by professional railway people who simply want faster journey times and sod the customer. I know this same type of thinking is happening all over the country and it is both a disgrace and a deterrent to rail travel.

Yes, Frank – this is what happens when we let the government run the railways.

They are trying to split the Liverpool to Norwich service into two halves at Nottingham in the next franchise. I predict problems for through passengers.