/ 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 They asked the conductor for a refund form which duly appeared, but contained out of date and incorrect information about what they were entitled to.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?


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

This comment was removed at the request of the user

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].

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?

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.

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.

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.

Nick Klee says:
5 January 2016

It is possible to get automatic notifications of any potential claim on your regular route and submit claims with Delay Repay Sniper. They do all the form filling for you, and your vouchers turn up in the post. I’m not connected in any way with this service, just a very satisfied customer/commuter who uses it.

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, Mods]

With respect to your recent email about SW Trains, they seem to make the whole process particularly difficult if you’re an Oystercard user as there’s no ticket to ‘prove’ that you’ve travelled.

In addtition, they only start paying out once the delay has been for 60 minutes or more despite them being compensated on a minute by minute basis.

They claim not to make any money from Network Rail compensation but refuse to release any more information on this

I have had the same issue, have to jump through hoops if you use Oyster, I have been passed from SWT to TFL and back to SWT! then at the end of all the to-ing and fro-ing, I get a rail voucher as a goodwill gesture as they dont do compensation on Oyster! what a shambles.

I rarely travel by rail, except on the local Merseyrail network. I have a ‘silver surfer’ free pass, so there is nothing to reclaim (except perhaps for inconvenience ?) Serious delays are rare, usually not more than 15 minutes in any case.

5 January 2016

Why do they only give you a voucher and not offer you option of a cash refund ?

One has to wonder why the Regulator, ORR, isn’t pulling all the train operating companies into line on this. Or is it waiting for the Rail Delivery Group to act and remind their TOC members of their duties?

I recently travelled to Nottingham from Bristol Temple Meads with a change at Birmingham New Street – the train from Temple Meads was 15 minutes late getting in to New Street because a tree overhanging the line had been declared unsafe ant trains had to creep past it to avoid disturbing it further. Consequently I missed my connection and had to wait 1 hour for the next available Nottingham train. I asked an official at New Street about compensation but was told that I couldn’t claim because the tree wasn’t the train company’s fault!

David, I don’t see how the tree could have been the company’s fault. They surely took the correct action in driving safely past it.

I must say, though, that lineside vegetation is a massive problem that has increased due to years of neglect. In the days of steam locomotives it was essential to keep the embankments and cuttings clear of vegetation to avoid the risk of fires in dry weather caused by sparks. Now the lineside is a veritable forest in places and this not only leads to the leaves on the line problem in the Autumn but the destabilisation of embankments and cuttings, root penetration of drainage channels leading to flooding, and to the risk of falling and branches trees during bad weather. Network Rail inherited a serious problem from Railtrack but nevertheless has only recently started to get on top of it. Since the green corridors have flourished, every time NR want to cut some trees down there are protests from neighbours and wildlife interests. I think they are just about getting the balance right again but tree falls and overhanging branches remain a problem that are outside of the operating company’s responsibility. Whether they can recharge NR for compensation payable for late running as a result I don’t know but I think they should be able to.

“Which” have got to stop talking about “refunds” and talk about “”compensation instead, a far more useful term for recovering lost time and inconvenience than the often irrelevant cost of the ticket which could be anything between perhaps £1.50 and £200! Who in their right mind would be satisfied with a refund of £1.50 for a journey delayed by several hours immediately after boarding the train? Nor is it realistic to expect your £200 back for a delay of 1-2 hours. Do not use language which train companies can take advantage of. It is passengers’ time that counts regardless of the ticket price.

The totally unguarded ,no lights ,bells nor anything to stop pedestrians or vehicles crossing in front of a fast moving train,crossing adjacent to my property,on the Waterloo to Reading line regularly causes trains to stop as,for a lot of reasons,it is regularly abused.So far there has only been one death and one person losing both legs.It is just a question of time before a vehicle derails a train causing multiple fatalities

Tuesday 1st December – 07.34 – 3 mins late to TW
Arrive London Cannon Street 08.41 –
14 mins late

Wednesday 2nd December – 17.37 – 6 mins late leaving London Cannon Street

Thursday 3rd December – 07.34 arrived 6 mins late into London Cannon Street at 08.32

Monday 7th December – 07.34 – arriving into London Cannon Street at 8.40 –
10 mins late

Wednesday 9th December – late to TW – 6.37 – 8 mins late

Monday 14th December – arrive at Cannon Street 8.40- 10 mins late. 5.37 – late arriving into TW by 10 mins I

Tuesday 15th December – 08.18 from TW to London Cannon Street, arrived at 9.18 – 11 mins late
– London cannon st to TW – 05.37 – arriving at 18.37 – 10 mins late

Wednesday 16th December – 07.36 departed at 07.40 – 4 mins late

Friday 18th December – 08.18 from TW to London Cannon Street – arrived at 9.15 – 4mins late
18.28 – cancelled to Tunbridge wells – getting off at Sevenoaks and changes for Tunbridge wells no guards on train got on the train at 19.31 from Sevenoaks arrived at TW at 19.53

Wednesday 23rd December – 21.45 from London Charing Cross to TW – 14 mins late

Monday 4th Jan – 07.36am to London Cannon Street delayed, other trains cancelled got on the 08.18am to London Cannon Street

Weds 6th Jan – 07.36am from TW to London Cannon Street – 14 mins late 8.44 arrive
17.37 from London Cannon Street to TW – 10mins late

Thursday 7th Jan – 07.36am from TW to London Cannon Street – 1 min late
Cannon Street to TW 17.37 – 6 mins late

Friday 8th Jan – 07.36 from TW to Cannon Street – 09.28 arrived
19.33 from London Cannon Street to TW abandoned and cancelled to Tunbridge wells

Monday 11th Jan – 07.36 from TW street – left TW 5 mins – arrived in London cannon 2 mins late
17.37 – London Cannon Street to TW – 6 mins late

Tuesday 12th Jan – 07.36 from TW left 5 mins late, arrived 4 mins late
17.37 – London Cannon Street to TW – 3 mins late

Don’t need to say anymore….

Hi Kate, welcome to Convo and thank you for sharing this record. It’s disappointing to see that your delays are so frequent, and cancellations too. We’ve got some further information on claiming for rail delays on our campaigns page here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/train-rail-delays-refunds/

Is there an untended consequence of penalising delayed trains. A train from London to Ipswich setting off after work finishes in London (especially after the cheap rate cuts in) arrives in Ipswich long after the rush from Ipswich leaves. The local connecting train leaving Ipswich carries mostly people from the London train. But is does not seem to be held up to make the connection because it would be late itself and the train operators fault. Trains that are timetabled to dovetail with each other should be linked somehow. A round the villages bus journey late at night is an exhausting affair.

Holding ‘connexions’ has been a thing of the past for many years now. I don’t know whether the compensation rules apply to an entire journey or separately to each leg of the journey. If the latter, then it is unfair and provides no incentive to the train company [or Network Rail] to improve performance. For some branch lines that have been reduced in capacity over the years holding connecting trains might be impracticable – if there is only one train on the branch it needs to get to the end of its route on time to provide a connexion in the return direction; if the branch is single track with a few passing loops, it is vital that the trains cross over at the loops otherwise even more disruption would occur.

Hubby has just had his 16th in a row delay repay refund request for 7 day season ticket purchased on line via his smart key account rejected by Southern with the following request.
“Please upload a copy of your ticket.”
The online compensation form appears to handle requests via smart cards, but the claim is consistently rejected. I on the other hand have yet to have such a problem, but I purchase my renewal at the machines. Each time the claim is re-raised and his claim goes to the back of the que!
Today was another 30 minute call and would be laughable had we not already received the following in December:-

“Thank you for contacting us on the 18th December in regards to your Delay Repay claim for the journey you took on the 10th December. Please accept my apologies for the delay in our response.

I would like to inform you that I have made a note on our system of you Key number, so you should not be asked to provide a ticket again.

After retrieving your ticket details from the key team, your claim will be resubmitted and processed as soon as possible.

This has also been escalated to our Complex case team so this issue can be dealt with accordingly as other customers are also having their claims wrongly declined because they have no ticket when they are key holders.

Thank you again for contacting us and I apologise for the inconvenience caused.
Kind Regards,

Charlotte-Jayne Frampton
Customer Service Advisor”