/ Travel & Leisure

Rail Ombudsman two years on: have you used its services?

On its second anniversary, the Rail Ombudsman is calling on the industry to increase awareness of the scheme. Have you used it to help resolve a dispute?

This is a guest post by Kevin Grix, Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman at the Rail Ombudsman. All views expressed are Kevin’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

With close to a million complaints made to train companies since 2018, only a fraction have gone on to be escalated to the Ombudsman. Without action, the Ombudsman’s impact and influence could be compromised to the detriment of rail passengers.

Figures released this week on our second anniversary reveal that circa 6,500 complaints to train operating companies that remained unresolved to the satisfaction of the rail passenger, were escalated to the Ombudsman.

Of these, nearly 2% were centred around accessibility disputes. The Ombudsman also receives a significant number of contacts from passengers who are potentially vulnerable. 

Over the past two years, 76% of rail passengers received a full or partial remedy to their in-scope dispute, with those awarded a financial settlement as part of the Ombudsman’s process, receiving on average £126.

Marking our second anniversary

The Rail Ombudsman was established in November 2018 following a campaign by consumer group Which? and was outlined as a pledge in the Conservative Party Manifesto released ahead of the 2017 election campaign.

RDG, DfT, the regulator and statutory bodies were then instrumental in setting up the scheme.

Decisions by the Rail Ombudsman are legally binding, and all train operators within England, Wales and Scotland are part of the scheme, which also provides learning and accredited City & Guilds training.

We know that railways are an essential part of daily life for millions of people and the cost of travel is not inconsequential. When things go wrong it can be very disruptive which is why passengers should know that there is a free and independent Rail Ombudsman for them to complain to.  

Naturally at any milestone, as well as celebrating our successes, we know there is more to be done to increase the impact and reach of the Ombudsman.

Making improvements

Cases brought to us are lower than expected, therefore, we call on the industry to improve their signposting to the Rail Ombudsman.

Previously, before the launch of the Rail Ombudsman, if a passenger’s complaint was unable to be resolved by a train company, a consumer’s choice was limited, with the courts the only solution that was binding upon train operators. 

As we suggest improvements to the industry based on the cases brought to us, the more visibility we have on rail passengers’ experiences, the more informed our recommendations to industry are.

We welcome your questions and views – please do let us know what you think of the scheme in the comments.

This was a guest post by Kevin Grix, Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman at the Rail Ombudsman. All views expressed were Kevin’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Have you ever made use of the Rail Ombudsman to resolve a rail travel dispute?
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This article makes no reference to Transport Focus [formerly Passenger Focus] which also deals with complaints about rail services, although its determinations are not binding. There would appear to be some overlap and if the Rail Ombudsman is not attracting the anticipated level of referrals it might indicate that the train operating companies’ internal customer services and complaints departments are functioning adequately and that passengers are also obtaining satisfactory resolution through Transport Focus.

The Regulator [the Office of Rail and Roads] also has an influence on services to passengers and receives considerable feedback about routes, rolling stock, stations, timetables, fares, accessibility, and service standards.

It would be interesting to learn what measures the Rail Ombudsman’s office has been able to promote or secure as a result of its investigations into complaints that have improved the travelling experience of passengers over the last two years. I cannot believe the Ombudsman’s lack of penetration is entirely due to a lack of knowledge by passengers and poor ‘signposting’ by the railway operators.

I have a DEADLY SERIOUS complaint about the current generation of multiple unit passenger trains, they TOTALLY EXclude anyone severely disabled like ME suffering with far more severe misophonia which is never recognised as a disability which it most certainly IS and the needs of sufferers are constantly ignored and if I complain about anything like trains NO-ONE ever wants to know, not even the disability minister, or transport focus etc. and I’ve looked at the rail ombudsman’s website and it also looks like they’re no help either. And the current generation of new multiple unit trains are now all open plan from end to end making them TOTALLY unusable because there is absolutely NO absolutely ESSENTIAL QUIET segregation which people like me NEED! I’d like to know what if anything the rail ombudsman can do for anyone like me, after all the so-called “equality” act defines disability as ANY long term physical or mental health condition which adversely affects a person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks, like using public transport. And it also says that barriers doesn’t just mean physical barriers. And since the start of 2020 all public transport in England at least is supposed to conform to the equality act, but there’s a serious problem, guess what, it DOESN’T! And NO-ONE in authority EVER wants to know, and neither do the media, or the local mp, or even transport user groups or even disability groups. It looks like they all only care about the white stick and wheelchair crowd but it’s nothing but two FAT fingers to anyone like ME and I’m absolutely SICK and TIRED of it. Is this Theresa May’s idea of “fair for everybody”? It never happened did it?! Why should folk like me have to give up travelling altogether and have to live like they’re in PRISON?! How many times do I have to shout it, disability is NOT all white sticks and wheelchairs! Misophonia causes absolutely APPALLING brutal disruption to the everyday routine and I’m absolutely sick and tired of it being played down and trivialised by those who never suffer in their LIFE! And I for one absolutely will not tolerate being so persistently ignored!

Hello, Crusader. Your condition seems to be a high sensitivity to noise? What do you think the train designers could do? Would it be sufficient to provide a quiet coach, or section, as on mainline trains, to minimise passenger noise? Would the rail noise (and engine noise on dmus) still be a problem?

Engine noise, and track noise isn’t a problem, it’s people’s behaviour that is such an appalling problem. And the new trains shouldn’t need huge structural alteration to create a quiet space, but just fairly sound proof doors fitted across the opening in between carriages at one end of the train, along with some suitable signposting and publicity about the need for quiet in that one area. AND of course we need the staff and especially the bosses to be far better educated about the needs of such people and the fact that some hidden disabilities can be the most brutal. Such sufferers are certainly NOT the moaning, whinging weaklings they’re all too often made out to be by those who have absolutely NO experience of such appalling conditions and who are far too often far too grossly condescending. And the so-called “disability experts” who I’ve met, including one on a HMCTS tribunal panel have absolutely no idea folk like me, or the appalling conditions they suffer with even exist which MUST change asap. And earphones don’t work, and even if they did then folk like me couldn’t hear important announcements which is all the more reason to install quiet segregation. Surely they can still be made to conform to safety and security standards, after all, countless millions have been invested in providing for wheelchair users but NOTHING is being done for anyone remotely like me which is an absolute disgrace. And such people are not even included in statistics which must also change.

While many on-board train announcements are repeated on a text screen inside each carriage, this is not usually the case for emergency announcements which are probably the most important, but I see no reason why at such times the screen should not carry a template message saying “Listen for Emergency Announcement” so that headphone wearers could remove them temporarily and those with hearing impairments could ask somebody to help them. There are very few trains now left without passenger information systems and screens in each carriage and running a visual alert alongside an audible announcement should be technically easy and relatively inexpensive.

I have since tried applying to the rail ombudsman for help with this serious matter of the need for quiet segregation but they couldn’t help, so they passed my details and complaint on to transport focus who this time tried to help but were unable to in the end. So where do I go from here? I can’t just accept a totally undeserved and totally unjustified life sentence to solitary confinement at home. It’s always the same with disability, the service providers and the government only recognise those with white sticks and wheelchairs but not anyone like me oh no, then it’s always two FAT fingers, STUFF you JACK! And the DPTAC, the disabled passengers transport advisory committee have a web page about hidden disorders, but needless to say there’s no mention on there of anyone like me, oh no. And why should all those like me have to remain hidden away out of sight and remain totally ignored have all essential awareness of their needs totally suppressed? And of course all the train operators keep arrogantly bragging about how their latest units supposedly “conform to the equality act” simply because they can get a wheelchair through the door, which of course absolutely DOES NOT make them conform to any such act but is only blatant propaganda and disinformation and the sooner that is far more well known, the better! And of course I’ve tried various “disability advocacy” groups but of course once again they don’t want to know either, instead all they do is make stupid videos on youtube with soundtracks full of brutal torturing sound effects like totally insane mindless finger-click routines which makes them totally impossible to listen to, which is blatant discrimination by those claiming to be campaigning against it. What absolute hypocrisy!

Crusader – I understand that your disability is severe misophonia, also referred to as selective sound sensitivity.

There is limited information about the condition outside specialist medical literature and it is said to be un-diagnosable with no standard diagnostic criteria. There is also little research on how common misophonia is and on any remedial applications. I guess, therefore, that it is extremely rare within the UK and not categorised as a disability, so there is no legislation available to compel provision for, or even any accommodation of, the effects of the condition and your decreased resilience to the impact of the the specific sound sensations that affect you so seriously.

I think you mentioned that you also have a severe heat intolerance that compounds your discomfort or causes you acute pain in certain situations or under certain conditions.

As you have previously explained, you have to rely on public transport where the nuisance factor of some public behaviour, which most people are able to tolerate albeit unwillingly, creates an intolerable assault on your senses. We have discussed before whether sound-deadening headphones would make travelling more bearable but there are practical drawbacks.

The remedy you seek is a compartment in which you can have almost total isolation. Some trains have ‘quiet coaches’ but my experience is that even they can be noisy and disturbing because people are still clicking away on their laptops and other devices and talking to each other, children are still running around kicking up hell’s delight, and the ordinary hustle and bustle of people getting on and off and passing through the train with luggage could be just as irritating to you. So a small private cabin would seem to be the only effective relief that the railways could provide [I would not expect the new Great British Railways to make much difference to your travelling experience].

I don’t know how practical that would be. I cannot see the government making it mandatory to install such a facility in every one of the trains that uses the GB rail network, although some [mainly long-distance] trains provide one or more little offices for the on-board passenger assistant [guard or conductor or combination] and it might be possible for some arrangement to be made, with advance booking, to occupy that space. Most trains, however, would not have that facility.

So far as I am aware no trains in the UK, except on some heritage railways, have separate compartments in the carriages to provide some privacy and separation from the type of sound source to which you have an intolerance.

The railways have eliminated the clickety-clack of the track but it has been replaced by the clicking and clacking of the populace who, obviously, cannot be aware of the your sensitivity to their noises.

I am afraid that there is little prospect of relief, either, if travelling by bus or road coach, and you have previously reported that the discomfort is even more pronounced if there are glazed rooflights that intensify the heat in the saloon, although I believe that is only a small minority of vehicles used for scenic journeys and possibly only in certain parts of the country.

I am sorry this does not help you very much and I cannot suggest any other avenues for you to explore since you have approached those most likely to be concerned. It may be that other readers will have some further ideas and I hope you can achieve some form of resolution, or at least recognition.

Flippantly, I feel driven to ask whether you have considered the monastic life? Pax vobiscum.