/ Travel & Leisure

If your train was effectively down for a month, would you want a refund?

South West Trains

What would you expect from your train operator if you paid over £5,000 per year and your service was effectively cancelled for a month? Would you want compensating? South West Trains passenger, Anjelica, joins us as a guest author to share her take on the current disruptions…

I’ve commuted to London from Southampton since January 2014. When I first started commuting I was working three days a week in North London and I recall being shocked to find that it was cheaper to a buy a season ticket, which at the time was around the £5,200 mark, than pay for a daily return.

Fast forward to 2017 and my train ticket is now £5,493 a year. In that time I can’t say that I have seen any improvement in the service – if anything, the overcrowding has gotten worse.

Commuter service

In fact, I can get a seat in the morning from Southampton Central, but by the time the train has stopped at Winchester the ten-carriage train is standing room only. To be honest, if I can help it I won’t get the train home before 18:30 simply because my experience tells me that between 16:35-18:05, the best I can hope for is a spot on the floor (usually next to a toilet) where I can stretch my legs out a bit.

But it’s not just overcrowding, it’s also the delays and cancellations. Sometimes, I can go a few weeks where I arrive on time or at least within five minutes of the advertised arrival time, but then there will be weeks where every day there will be some form of signalling failure or congestion on the line which tends to cause delays of around 20 minutes.

While the service is rarely delayed for an hour or more, when it is, it will be a nightmare delay for well over an hour and often without any updates about why we are delayed, what’s being done to sort it or how long we might expect to be stranded. And never are we told how to claim compensation or even that we can.

Upgrade plans

If the upgrades at Waterloo do actually mean that there will be longer trains to address the overcrowding then I welcome them. I also appreciate that there will be no convenient time in which to carry out the works so August seems as sensible time as any to me.

But South West Trains’ advice to commuters has been to not to travel during this time. Indeed, the official guidance includes ‘take annual leave’…in August, during school holidays, when we all know that holiday prices skyrocket.

On reading this advice I assumed that there would be some system in place to compensate people with annual season tickets. Surely, I thought, there is no way that they would advise ‘don’t travel and stay at home if you can’, and not compensate me?

But when I first asked about this at the train station the staff simply didn’t know. It wasn’t until I asked South West Trains on Twitter that I was told that we wouldn’t have our season ticket refunded for the month because we have been given plenty of notice to ‘make other arrangements’.

Travel troubles

It seems to me there are five ‘other arrangements’ a season ticket holder could make:

– Drive to London;
– rent a room;
– stay with friends;
– take annual leave; or
– work from home, if you can.

All of these options, bar the last, would involve additional costs on top of my season ticket

So during this disruption, I’ve only travelled four times. And despite the revised timetable for the disruption period, each time I’ve been delayed. For example, on Tuesday 15 August I got the 06:30 train from Southampton to Waterloo.

I received an email from South West Trains at 06:29 (just as the doors locked) to tell me not to travel. The train guard didn’t say anything until we got to Basingstoke and told passengers that to get to London we needed to change, travel to Reading and then to Paddington.

The passengers from my busy ten-carriage train piled onto a five-carriage train to Reading. I was one of the lucky ones: I found a spot in the luggage rack. I got into Paddington just after 9am (2hr 30mins after leaving Southampton on a journey that was supposed to take 1hr 35mins).

Is this acceptable?

The South West Trains franchise passed from Stagecoach to First/MTR on 20 August. After initially having no compensation arrangements in place, Stagecoach has offered to pay two weeks’ compensation for the South West Trains disruption. But, so far, I’m not aware that any compensation arrangements have been forthcoming from the new owners.

Regardless of who owns the franchise, the fact remains for passengers that we’ve suffered a full month of disruption. As for the compensation, I’m still not clear what the rationale is for only providing two weeks compensation.

So is this acceptable? I’m not so sure…