/ Travel & Leisure

What’s the worst excuse you’ve heard for train delays?

Southeastern trains were delayed yesterday due to the ‘wrong kind of sun’. But travellers were unimpressed by this excuse. So what’s the worst or weirdest excuse you’ve heard for a rail delay?

It’s cold, pretty early and a miserable Monday morning – but the weather really isn’t that bad, so in true British-style I collect my brolley and walk to the train station.

Arriving at the station I make my way to the crowded platform, where to my disappointment an announcement booms over Platform 3: ‘Due to the inclement weather’ (oh no, I know what comes next) ’services to London are experiencing delays’ (again) *sigh*.

Now I know that safety should always come first, but what I can’t get my head around is why a bit of rain (in a country where we see a fair amount of it) seems to slow my train service down so frequently. So I can really sympathise with the frustrated Southeastern passengers who suffered delays yesterday due to the ‘strong sunlight’…

A poor excuse?

Southeastern rail passengers on services at Lewisham, south-east London, were disrupted yesterday morning because of the low winter sun.

According to Southeastern, the angle of the sun was causing ‘dispatching issues’ as the sunlight was preventing the driver from seeing the dispatch monitor. This meant the driver was having to manually check that the train was safe to depart the platform.

While safety should always be paramount, surely they’ve experienced these weather conditions before. Our weather isn’t all that bad after all and we do occasionally see some sunshine. Perhaps a simple solution would be a pair of sunglasses?

Communication is key

When excuses for train delays range from the sublime to the ridiculous all rail passengers want to hear is an apology and how they’ll be compensated for these delays.

We think that train companies need to do much more to treat their customers fairly, and be proactive in telling their customers how they can be refunded for delays and cancellations.

That’s why we’ve used our super-complaint powers to call on the rail regulator to take action. If you agree, then make sure you sign our petition.

So over to you then, what’s the strangest excuse you’ve heard for a delayed train?


If the sun is at such a low angle that it is blinding the driver, I would prefer the train be delayed rather than travelling in an unsafe manner.

I think the problem was, if the train was inbound to London on the SouthEastern system with the sun shining brightly at a low angle from behind the train, that the sun was beaming directly onto the monitor screen and making it impossible to see the image, sunglasses notwithstanding. I agree that in circumstances like that it is better to delay departure than have the doors closed prematurely or leading to a hazard for passengers. I believe newer generations of trains [perhaps on London Underground initially] have a duplicate monitor in the driving cab so the screen is not affected by glare or other impediments.

I think it a pity that this intro ridicules reasons put forward for train delays. I doubt that the reasons given are made up to cover other problems. But maybe you could tackle the train companies concerned for their side of the story?

Sunglasses will not cure the glare from a very bright low sun obscuring a low brightness illuminated sign or screen (if that is what is used to give despatch information). Glare is about relative brightness between a glare source and a target to be viewed – sunglasses reduce both equally so will not help.

I was driving yesterday under similar conditions and at times found it virtually impossible to see oncoming traffic. Sunglasses would not help there either. caution was called for.

So let’s assume that sometimes the explanations given for things that happen is not because an organisation is out to deceive us, but for very good reasons. As you state, safety is of paramount importance.

Its been a lovely sunny day here today, and we look like having a few more. Hopefully they’ll make me feel less grumpy. I really want to get out into the garden 🙂

Claire says:
13 January 2016

leaves on the track, staff not turning up, the list is endless…

Leaves on the line is a real problem. They can stick to the rail top and cause loss of adhesion – dangerous when braking. Why disparage a safety issue? Equipment has to be employed to scrape the track clear. An alternative is to remove all trees near tracks – what a pity to despoil the landscape for occasional disruption!

“A Southeastern spokesperson said: “We know that sometimes it seems that if it’s not leaves on the line or snow on the track then it is some other weather issue.

“But actually glare this morning made it impossible for some drivers to see the full length of their train in their mirrors before leaving stations.

“When this happens they have to get out and check to ensure everybody has got on or off their train safely before they can move. This can take a little more time but thankfully for all it doesn’t happen very often.”

An unusual combination of sun strength and angle? Sun glasses would be of absolutely no use. Perhaps a bit more research before condemning people might be appropriate?

Better safe than sorry at the end of the day, but some of the genuine questions therefore could be: how long does it take to get out and check the everyone is on or off the train, how many times does it take for drivers to get off and on their trains for a significant delay to build up, did this unusual combination of sun strength and angle occur at every station on the way, aren’t there colleagues equipped with a whistle at most stations to signal it’s safe to move on.

Why are the mirrors and windscreens not dazzle proof, could the railways not issue drivers with sun glasses, after all bus,truck and car drivers, can’t say, must stop till the sun goes down, they have to use their visors or sun glasses and get on with it, after all this is the 21st century.
equip all engines and driven wheels with sand blasters, that will take care of leaves and rubbish, fit bumpers at track level to remove stuff put on tracks

james, if the sun is still shining in a clear sky and is low, look towards it (quickly, don’t damage your eyes) and see if you can see any detail just to one side of it. that is disability glare, Try it with sunglasses and you’ll see why i believe on this occasion the train driver had a problem.

Regarding leaves on the line, that is not as easy to deal with as you suggest. Network Rail say:
“55 leaf-busting trains clean the top of the rail by spraying it with a water jet at high pressure to blast away leaf mulch. These trains also lay ‘Sandite’, a composite material of sand and aluminium, to aid traction
More than 80 two-man ‘leaf-busting’ teams are available 24/7 at key locations to scrub the top of the rails by hand with a sand-based treatment
We replace lineside vegetation with species less likely to shed leaves
Between 1 October and 13 December we receive forecasts twice a day from specialist weather forecaster MeteoGroup which highlight locations requiring action so we can plan effectively
Some rail companies change their timings and publish special leaf fall timetables to take account of the additional time journeys can take during difficult autumn conditions in known ‘black spots'”

January 8, Guildford: Trains severely disrupted by “icy rails”. It’s barely freezing. No rain, no snow, it’s bright and sunny. If Switzerland had these issues, they wouldn’t have a train service between October and April.

I doubt the train companies or Network Rail want delays any more than passengers.
“Snow and ice can cause serious problems for the railway. Particularly at risk are areas where trains move more slowly, such as the approach to stations and points. Snow can be compacted by passing trains into solid ice, which prevents points working, and ice can coat the electrified rail, preventing trains from drawing power.”

Like our roads and airports we must remember that we experience these conditions very much less than countries like Switzerland. It makes sense for them to invest heavily in techniques and equipment to deal with perhaps 4-6 months of harsh conditions. It would not make the same financial sense here.

The most recent …..too many passengers and that was because they had cancelled/late trains due to flooding on a day when it had not rained nor no news stories of flooding due to burst water mains….

A number of places experience flooding two or three days after it has rained heavily several dozen miles upstream.

Jason says:
16 January 2016

Latest favourite bs excuse by FCC / Thameslink….. “delays caused by earlier delays”…. They trot this one out almost every day. It used to be lack of crew but they may have got bored and don’t use that one quite so often

Glyn says:
16 January 2016

A few ears ago I was in Brighton when SE Rail made an apology for the delays to trains because of a land slip at Fishguard! Certainly there had been such a land slip, but Fishguard is over 300 miles away with no links to that system!

Moore says:
18 January 2016

Worst excuse we have had – “Too many passengers getting on and off the train” – near half hour delay getting into Paddington from Penzance. Always the customer’s fault apparently! No compensation even though our plans were ruined.

Peter says:
21 January 2016

First Great Western, 20th Jan. Due to a potential suicide, trains were disrupted into Paddington. What they always do to recover is run stopping trains as non stopping trains. The 16:31 from Reading ran as non stopping from Slough to Paddington, as did surrounding stopping services. The end result is a very overcrowded, poor service at the minor stations. By all means run a few like this but not 3 on the trot like yesterday leaving a 15 minute service to be an hour. These stats don’t appear on the lists because the train did run from Reading to Paddington and arrived at Paddington on time. They always do this and it’s annoying.

Irene says:
21 January 2016

I am sorry for the people who travel with Southern rail and buy 1st Class tickets seasons tickets. The extra expense they pay, to either ensure a seat or so that they are able to work, is circumvented on a regular bases.
I have a bad knee, so when traveling to London Victoria, I buy a 1st Class ticket, to try an guarantee a seat on the overcrowded train. So you can imagine my chagrin, when it is declassified due to overcrowding. However listening to the commuters, I realised they were continually rip-off.

Bobby says:
23 January 2016

I once heard that the driver just had to pop to the toilet so 1000 passengers delayed out of Liverpool street

I hope the passengers were grateful that the driver was thereby comfortable for the journey, could concentrate fully, and had full functionality. Ideally, he would have gone earlier but he might have been delayed by a late train or the toilet might have had standing room only at the time.

Maybe something for the future
The Scottish powers that be have just announced that it is not possible/advisable to prosecute anyone in connection with the bin lorry disaster
The council is not at fault and neither is the driver yet the driver lied through his teeth to keep his licence and again to get the job
Surely this is a case of law and justice being not just wrong but off the b***y plot
This is no different and probably worse than gabbing or texting on the phone while driving and a good deal more deliberate
Is there not cause for change here????????

As far as I recall the inquest in the Glasgow bin lorry tragedy recorded a verdict of accidental death and the Procurator Fiscal’s office had decided that there was not enough evidence to pursue a criminal prosecution. Faced with that it was not surprising that the Lord Advocate decided not to accede to a private prosecution but the parties still have the right to make an application to the High Court for leave to proceed.

Glasgow City Council might have been at fault for not retaining evidence of the driver’s job application and interview records, but that is speculation on my part.

I don’t think this has any relevance to the excuses given for train delays and cancellations.

Alan Power says:
23 January 2016

In the Spring of 2015 I went to Manchester on business taking a Virgin Trains return from Euston. The train came to a halt on the return journey and we were told it was due to a polythene bag on an overhead electric cable ahead. The train was delayed for less than 90 minutes. The guard came along the train and gave everyone a form for claiming compensation. I completed it and got my return fare refunded – worth approximately £80. I was paid in vouchers for rail travel to be used on any route.
This was excellent service from Virgin trains. The delay wasn’t their fault and I would not have expected compensation. Purist could argue it should be a cash refund, but vouchers are fine by me

Reasons for our delays were, vandals on the line, overhead electrical failure & flooding, just on one journey!

Frequently you hear the excuse that your train is delayed because it’s following another slow running train. The question that is never answered is why is that train is slow running?

Jozsef Orosz says:
25 January 2016

My claim for delay compensation with Thameslink has been rejected by their automated ‘web-based’ delay service because on their web form I have entered 5.00PM as an approximate departure of my delayed train (the scheduled departure was 5.08PM which I didn’t want to look up weeks later). Only in a month, the system replied with an email that wasn’t such a train and simply ignored my claim.

I have since then contacted Thameslink twice in email but never seen a reply and now have contacted London Travel Watch.

Thameslink is hiding behind this intentionally complicated web form to avoid paying compensation.

But the fact that they do not reply email complaints is simply unacceptable.

I did not claim compensation last time I was delayed as the cause was trespass. Why should the train company pay for that? It should be the trespassers but they seldom get caught.
Are you going to have a similar campaign for motorists stuck in traffic jams to get refunds for extra fuel used or are you just having a go at train companies as easy targets?

Simon Buckingham says:
25 January 2016

This sent on 21 Jan 2016 to:


Dear Sir/Madam.

I am writing this e-mail, copying in all the relevant parties as well as my local MP (living in Walderslade in Chatham), due to an incredible failing on the part of the rail companies and watchdog organisations.

On 29 November 2015, my family, consisting of 5 adults and 2 children, drove to Petts Wood, and from there bought a group train ticket for the day to Kensington Olympia. This was a Southeastern railway station from whom we purchased the tickets.

The journey there was from Petts Wood to Victoria, change for Clapham Junction, and change again for Kensington Olympia. The outward journey took a little over an hour.

We left Kensington Olympia at 15:00. The first delayed train arrived at 15:20 or so. We tried getting on with the children and a wheelchair/pushchair, but the guard would not let Mum or Dad on, though we had boarded with the children. There was enough room, but the guard would not get out of the way or move people down the train. We had no hope of getting off again. This was a Transport For London train.

We all met up about 20 minutes later at Clapham Junction, and caught the train to Victoria.

The train to Victoria from Brighton arrived on time, but got in as our train was leaving Victoria. We would have caught this train but for the guard and the initial delay. This was a Southern Railways train.

On arrival at Victoria, the next two trains were ‘delayed’ due to a signal failure outside Victoria. We therefore waited.

After about an hour (with two children with disabilities, both of whom have congenital heart defects, where the cold affects them), we were told that the trains were cancelled.

The Southern station manager suggested going to Blackfriars and catching the train from there. We therefore trekked across London to catch this train.

This train, the 18:04, left on time, but was also delayed. This was a Southeastern train.

We pulled into Petts Wood at about 20:20, close to four hours later than we should have arrived.

I tried claiming a refund from Southeastern. They replied by stating that the issue was with Southern Rail.

Contacting Southern Rail, they said that the station of departure was Kensington Olympia, which made it TfL.

TfL said that the tickets were bought from Southeastern, so the issue was with them, and they could only refund to an Oyster Card which could not be cashed in anyway.

I called Transport Focus who said that a complaint had to be made through London Travelwatch as it was in London.

London Travelwatch said that the tickets were bought outside of London, so the issue was with Transport Focus.

It is clear why passengers do not bother with the trains, and why they don’t even try to reclaim ticket costs. I have spent a lot of time and money (about 3 hours so far at NZ$250 per hour which is my usual fee as a Barrister and Solicitor) to be given the runaround by the companies and the watchdogs. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Clearly, the only group here to come off at least halfway co-operative is Southern Rail, who, as a goodwill gesture, offered us 50 pounds worth of travel vouchers. We are in point of fact entitled to a full refund after such a delay, yet are being given the runaround.

As such, I would ask for the full cost of the tickets, (copies of the returns enclosed), plus at least 100 pounds to allow for time and expense.

I would also say that I know Minister Crouch that you have an interest in this issue, and so here is a practical case, from a former NZ Parliamentary Candidate and Lawyer from the opposition Party (NZ Labour Party) which you can safely use without fear of allegations of this being politically motivated. I would support any battle to hold these crooks accountable. I say crooks, as it seems prima facie that this is a set-up to avoid payment, with the watchdogs being in the pockets of the rail companies.

I am looking forward to a prompt and full resolution, as failure to resolve this will lead to a full media release.

Yours sincerely

Barbara McMorran says:
25 January 2016

I would just like to add a positive note to all the complaints. I have made 3 claims for delay compensation in the last 12 months. 1 to cross country and 2 to London Midland. In all cases I downloaded their forms, completed and posted them. In all cases I received acknowledgement within days and payment within a reasonable time. I don’t think they made it difficult. I agree perhaps there should be wider knowledge that the scheme is available.Forms could be more readily available as on another occasion with Transpennine when we were handed forms on the train that was delayed

Pamela Hill says:
30 January 2016

When Virgin took over the EastCoast mainline we were delayed, but had slight job in locating refund claim forms. We managed in the end and got vouchers which can only be used at the station when booking. A tadge awkward as we booked and usually book online. I fact I’ve just booked online having completely forgotten we had the vouchers!
But yes, in general Virgin were good.