/ Money, Travel & Leisure

We’ve launched a campaign to make rail refunds easier

Train tickets

We’re tackling the issue of rail compensation head on by using our legal powers to submit a super-complaint to the Office of Rail and Road. We’re asking for rail refunds to be made clearer and easier for passengers.

Be it leaves on the line, the wrong kind of snow or a missing driver, train delays are an unwelcome feature of many train journeys. Sometimes, despite the frustration of a delay I almost have to laugh at the excuse given.

Train delays

But what isn’t a laughing matter is that passengers are regularly being put out and yet unclaimed compensation for delayed and cancelled train journeys is running in to millions of pounds each year.

That’s why we’ve submitted our super-complaint to the regulator and are asking for rail refunds to be made easier.


The latest figures show that 47 million passenger journeys were cancelled or significantly late in one year.

Yet our survey of almost 7,000 passengers found that only a third of passengers who may have been entitled to compensation made a claim. The fact that only 36% of those surveyed were informed of their rights after their last delay highlights why claiming levels are so low.

What’s the solution?

Train companies could easily make passengers aware of their rights when they’re delayed, and make the system easier too. Just the other week my parents were on a delayed train and yet there was no announcement about their entitlement to compensation. They asked the conductor for a refund form which duly appeared, but contained out of date and incorrect information about what they were entitled to.

If passengers waited for automatic compensation for delays to be rolled out, it would take until at least 2025 to cover the whole network. To get the system back on track we want clear information on how to get a refund for rail delays, with all train companies offering cash as the first option for compensation and for them to be held to account if they fail to encourage passengers to claim refunds.


Have you ever suffered from delayed or cancelled trains? Were you clear on your rights to claim compensation? Did you make a claim?

Comments
Member

i have several complaints over delayed and cancelled trains with Scotrail over the level of service on the Wick – Inverness line, with some complaints over 4 months old and still no response.

I’ve phoned them up and emailed them serveral times with no response from them by email and when i phone them up i constantly get told you complaints are being processed, and this is from complaints from 4 months ago, shocking customer service

Member

Caithnesstodd – Have you read the — inverness -courier.co.uk/news/concern-poor-rail-service— dated 12-9-2015 your complaint is mentioned front-page . Also contact – fofnl.org.uk — Friends of the Far North Line for advice . Some excuses are -lack of drivers/ single line tracks.

Member

I was recntly caught up in a series of problems on the London – Norwich main line. The previous train had ‘failed’ on start-up at London Liverpool St. After ten minutes it was cancelled and all the passengers were transferred to the next departure on which I had a reserved seat. The train left London about twenty minutes late and full to overflowing. Having lost its slot in the timetable it crawled along and had to make extra stops to pick up passengers waiting for the train scheduled before it but cancelled. About half way through the journey there was an announcement that another train had ‘failed’ ahead of us and there would be a delay while that train was dealt with and we would travel ‘wrong line’ to pass it. By that time our train was half-empty and there was enough space for everyone from the failed train to get on ours. The amazing thing was that there was a mood of stoical acceptance, nobody was harassing the conductor, who was checking for onward destinations, and the café bar was offering free bottles of water and snacks. There was the usual mobile phone chatter as people notified their families of the delay, and plenty of good-humoured banter between passengers. Arrival at Norwich was over an hour behind schedule. Over the last section of the route the conductor announced that connecting trains to various destinations had been held and gave the platform numbers. The Great Yarmouth train had been replatformed so that it would be alongside our train for easy transfer. The conductor also said that ‘Delay Pay’ forms would be handed out at Norwich, and indeed a phalanx of staff were on hand to guide people to their connecting trains and hand out the forms. This was Abellio Greater Anglia who do not rank highly in passenger satisfaction surveys but who, in my opinion, managed the situation very competently. Most passengers were saying that they wouldn’t take the compensation forms because they recognised that these things happen and that it was an unusual occurrence [which is not statistically correct – the line does have a bad record for delays and cancellations]. In this instance the delays were due entirely to the train operating company [TOC] and not to Network Rail infrastructure where problems usually originate. So perhaps people are not ignorant about their rights to compensation but make a conscious decision not to exercise them. There are posters at every station on the operator’s routes giving details of their compensation scheme. The extra hour did not inconvenience us much [it would have done if it had happened in the morning in the opposite direction but getting home a bit later than planned can happen with any mode of transport].

Member

The Intro says “If passengers waited for automatic compensation for delays to be rolled out, it would take until at least 2025 to cover the whole network”. That might be so if we have to wait for every franchise renewal before the system is comprehensive, but there is nothing to stop the Train Operating Companies [TOC’s] from introducing it of their own volition as some have already done. The Department for Transport has several levers within its control to propel TOC’s in that direction. Additional stimulus from Which? and the Office of Rail and Road [ORR] would obviously assist but even without that I would expect all TOC’s to fall into line by 2020 at the latest for the perfectly good commercial reason that any dragging of their feet will not do them any favours when they come to bid for future franchises.

At present, as the super-complaint outlines, each TOC must have a compensation scheme and can either use the basic National Rail Conditons of Carriage scheme or the Department for Transport’s [DfT] Delay/Repay provison which will be mandatory across the nationally franchised network from 2021. Each scheme has different definitions of what cause or duration of delay triggers a refund and the percentage level of any refund, and TOC’s can enhance it in accordance with their own passenger charter. The diversity probably reflects the desire at the time of privatisation to distance operations from government interference and to give commercial freedom and flexibility to the new operators, and it also suited the differing circumstances of TOC’s that predominantly ran intensive commuter services with most passengers holding season tickets [for which there is a performance incentive in annual fare reviews] and those operating long distance or regional flows. However, one of the fundamental principles of privatisation was the retention of what were described as ‘network benefits’. These are hard to discern now and apart from the fact that all tickets look alike and that railcards in different shapes and forms remain comprehensively valid it is hard to find many universal passenger benefits, and it is surprising that a standard compensation scheme was not considered to be worthy of being a ‘network benefit’ at the outset. But it isn’t and it must be a priority to achieve this in the first instance, (a) to avoid passenger confusion, (b) to ensure that journeys involving two or more TOC’s are dealt with consistently, (c) to ensure that train and ticket office staff have no excuse for giving wrong information, and (d) to result in uniform publicity, forms and procedures. A central ‘clearing house’ has been suggested but this would, in the first place, likely become a bureaucratic logjam, and secondly further distance the TOC’s from ownership of and accountability for the delays. Thankfully the DfT is pushing the Delay/Repay onto all new franchises but there will inevitably be differences in implementation and several flaws remain. While the scheme might become mandatory, automatic refunding will not.

The railway already has a massive bureaucracy in the form of its delay attribution system which analyses each event and decides whether the cause is down to Network Rail or to the TOC, or is a ‘TOC on TOC’ which includes Freight Operating Companies who are routinely accused of running late and holding up passenger services, but not always with justification. Where Network Rail is held responsible for the delay it has to pay compensation to the TOC’s affected so if passengers don’t claim their compensation the TOC trousers the difference. This leads to a smaller and less well-known bureaucracy whereby the TOC’s try to swing delays onto Network Rail if they possibly can. Moreover, if their own locomotive or train ‘fails’, they might also have a contractual claim against a maintenance company as much of the new rolling stock is provided under a long-term maintenance contract by the manufacturer or through a leasing company. So the money is there to support a proper compensation scheme for delays.

But there is yet one more thorny issue that should also be swept away. At present, for the purposes of measuring the performance of the railway companies a “right-time arrival” can be up to five minutes late for a local service or up to ten minutes late for an inter-city service at the destination station. Compounding this, most timetables are surreptitiously ‘padded’ with extra running time for the last portion of the journey [e.g. on a journey from A to F, the section A to B might be timetabled for 20 minutes but in the reverse direction B to A might have 27 minutes allowed to give ‘recovery time’]. Over the years these allowances have crept ever upwards and compromise the performance monitoring regime. Since Network Rail sets and controls the timetables it must be a reasonable suspicion that this practice is largely for its benefit but the TOC’s also enjoy its relief. It is unfair for passengers on intermediate journeys as no account is taken of delays at intermediate stations and in a number of cases lead to missing connecting trains or other inconvenience.

The automatic compensation payment system can only work for people who have a season ticket or who book or buy their tickets in advance of the day of travel since their payment details, or at least name and address, are held by the TOC and the ticket is for a specific journey. Since a very high percentage of rail journeys are bought on a ‘walk up’ basis using a ticket office or self-service machine where no identity details are required, or even which departure will be used, such passengers will remain at a disadvantage and I hope Which? takes this on board as it progresses its complaint.

I have not yet had the opportunity to study the Which? Super-complaint in detail but at first glance it looks very good indeed and should not be easily denied or diminished. The ORR is currently under scrutiny and official review itself but I hope it nevertheless gives full attention to the Which? submission. At various points in the document there are references to the Association of Train Operating Companies [ATOC] and they could still be valid, but since 2011, the Rail Delivery Group [RDG] has been responsible for policy formulation and communications on behalf of the whole rail industry leaving the execution of policy to ATOC and the TOC’s. In four years the RDG has failed to establish any public persona and I would wager that over 95% of passengers have never heard of it [the remaining 5% being certain employees of the TOC’s, Network Rail, the ORR and the DfT].

The ORR has 90 days [plus ten minutes I suppose] in which to say roughly what it thinks about the super-complaint and how it will deal with it, so it’s not exactly an express service. That takes us to around the 20th of March 2016 [subject to engineering works] for an initial response before any investigation gets under way and serious proposals are discussed. On timing, the ORR will shortly be without a permanent Chairman [with the present incumbent’s term elapsing at the year-end] as the recruitment process has been ‘paused’ in light of a current official review of rail regulation recently announced by the Secretary of State; the rail functions of the ORR are also implicated in two other reviews of the rail industry, one into the long-term shape and financing of Network Rail which is due to report in time for the next Budget, and the other into the roles and responsibilities of the ORR as part of a review of Network Rail’s major projects programme. All these reviews are hardly likely to leave the ORR undisturbed and could even lead to its demise in terms of rail regulation. The ‘before the budget’ delivery date for one of the reviews is significant. The next budget is timetabled for 16 March 2016. When will the Which? super-complaint outcomes appear on the arrivals board?

Member

Even if you do get a refund, you get a voucher which you have to use in a station – you can’t use it online, which means you can’t benefit from the best fares. That seems unreasonable, when it’s so easy to provide online vouchers these days.

Member

Ditto Patrick. I find it nearly criminal that when you go to purchase an annual season ticket from south west trains at a cost often of 1000’s of pounds they never tell you that you are only purachasing a season ticket for 42 weeks and the other 10 weeks you get for free. This matters when you lose your job or go on maternity leave. When you enter into a Mobile phone contract at least there is a contract you can read and sign beforehand but when you purchase a season ticket there is no clear simple plain English contract you get to read upfront. That rail companies have total lack of transparency in these areas and this has been going on far toolong. The train companies are monopolies.

Member

I was surprised at the station in Wolverhampton that I was informed by the railway clerk that I could get compensation-the train was delayed an hour and messed up all my later connections. She gave me a form which I duly filled in online and received an acknowledgement from Virgin Trains. That is as far as it got. My emails since to Virgin Trains have been acknowledged but no compensation. It is now a month already. These train companies are quick to raise fares but too lax on everything else.