/ Travel & Leisure

Why isn’t it easier to claim rail fare compensation?

Train at night

If your train’s late, you might think it’s simply the length of the delay that matters when claiming compensation. You’d be wrong. No wonder many of us are confused about what we’re entitled to when our trains get delayed.

Lateness is just one factor in successfully getting compensation. Since each train company has a different agreement with the government, all agreed at different times, there’s a big range of entitlements.

For an hour’s delay on a long distance train, you can get anything from 25-100% of your fare back. And half of firms give no compensation if you’re delayed more than 30 minutes but less than 1 hour. Some train companies even have different compensation levels for different bits of their network.

Rail vouchers and refunds

And if all these delays have put you off train travel, you may not be delighted to hear that compensation often comes in rail vouchers! There is one advantage to this – the vouchers can thankfully be used with any train company, not just the one you were delayed on.

To add confusion, refunds (available only if you haven’t used your ticket) come under a totally different system to compensation. This might sound totally mad, but separate rules generally make refunds much more generous than compensation for delays.

This leads to the bizarre result that if there was an event outside the rail industry’s control, such as bad snow (for which you’d get no compensation), you’d be better off staying at home and claiming a refund, rather than getting on a delayed train.

Annual ticket holders left out

You might be left out entirely if you’ve got a monthly or annual season ticket! Confused yet?

What I mean is that although most rail companies let you claim compensation if you’re delayed beyond a certain time, many won’t do the same for monthly or annual ticket holders. So, despite forking out say five grand for your annual ticket, you could get nothing.

Instead, some rail companies, like First Great Western, will only offer compensation if their performance drops below a certain level. This doesn’t happen very often.

So you have to be a bit of an expert to know what you’re entitled to. We think all rail companies should offer the very same terms for delayed trains, no matter what type of ticket you have. Do you? And how easy have you found it to claim compensation or a refund from a rail company?


I think part of the reason why people don’t claim is that when you use the train every day, you just accept that delays will happen as we are running on a very old network with old signaling and lots of thieves!

I have never tried to claim compensation, I have never felt the need, I have in Germany though, air con not working on the ICE trains gives you a full refund for Koeln to Brussels. It was 100 outside at the time so I think fair’s fair.

I’d be more inclined to ask for a refund on a Jubilee line train though 🙂

Gavin says:
21 April 2011

I’ve claimed on both First Great Western and Virgin Trains and they’ve both replied quickly and very happily gave me my vouchers. FGW at one point decided to award 1.5x the amount of what they were stipulated.

One thing that isn’t well known and should be added to the Which? article is the ability to claim a full refund of a tube journey with Tfl if you are delayed for 15 minutes or more. http://www.mytubewaslate.com is a very handy free site that makes it extremely easy to fill in their compensation form. I only realised this 2 months ago and have £5 worth of vouchers already on my desk, with £5 more worth of claims to submit.

Related to that, the passenger charters for national rail companies really allow them to get away with murder when it comes to delays in London. Often delays are 10-20 minutes and therefore you can’t claim compensation. The Tfl rule in my opinion should apply to any rail and tube journey within the London travelcard zones.


Hi Gavin – thanks for commenting – it’s nice to hear stories of people getting their money back promptly and without a lot of fuss! I have to admit that I haven’t claimed refunds that I’ve been entitled to in the past, mainly because I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do it.

Dean’s point about just accepting the delays rings true as well – there seem to be so many problems on the trains that you do tend to get used to it. Although it took me a while – I lived in Japan for a couple of years where the trains are clean, cheap and extraordinarily punctual. It took a good year or so for me to get used to our rail network when I got back!

And Gavin – thanks for mentioning London Underground as well – I expect there will be a lot of Jubilee line passengers this week who might be putting in claims. Although it’s not specifically mentioned in the guide, our train delays tool lists compensation amounts for all the train companies, including London Underground: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/travel-rights/train-delays/train-delay-tool/

Graham says:
21 April 2011

I’ve twice claimed refunds from East Coast recently,with a very prompt reply. The guard made announcments on the train with details of how to claim via post or internet. On one occassion they even provided a taxi for final 15miles of journey as I had missed the last train.


I was impressed with East Coast earlier this year when they contacted me to inform me I could put in a claim for a severely delayed journey.

I don’t know if a regulator told them to contact customers, but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless and the refund was paid quickly.


One thing I’ve found incredibly frustrating though is the treatment of single vs return tickets.

As far as I’m aware, quite a few train companies (all of them?) will refund the price of a single journey if the train is 1-2 hours delayed, and will refund a full return ticket if the hold-up is longer than 2 hours.

When I travel up north and buy my tickets in advance, it’s invariably cheaper to buy two singles rather than a return ticket. And yet, when I claimed for a refund because my train was 2.5 hours late, I was only refunded the price of the single ticket. Why? Because I didn’t buy a return ticket (even though I did buy two single tickets – one each way – at the same time).

So they rip you off one way or the other – if you buy a return ticket you pay over the odds, but if you buy two singles the train company gets out of paying half the compensation you’re due when it fails to run a proper service.

And don’t even get me started on rail replacement buses…

Steve Swords says:
27 April 2011

I’ve made claims on both Virgin and East Coast and both had quick, clear processes. Indeed when our journey north on 7/7 was truncated Virgin paid for the taxi to complete the journey.

Payment of compensation by means of vouchers is a different matter. I book all of my rail travel via the net but you can only use the vouchers when booking tickets at a rail station. I feel that the rail companies do this deliberately banking on a significant percentage of the vouchers are not redeemed in the required way. A 12 month expiry is also calculated to reduce the numbers redeemed.

Why if you pay by credit card the compensation does not follow the same path?


I eventually received compensation for an £8 taxi fare I had to pay when I was directed to the wrong train by incorrect information on both the display board and announcements. The train did not stop at the station promised and there was no return train from the next station it did stop at because of the lateness of the hour. But, it took several letters and emails before I received £28 in vouchers; the initial replies were a flat refusal to compensate for the consequences of a late train and I had to point out firmly and repeatedly that my complaint was not based on the lateness of the train but that the information given was simply false.

Simply, I am not impressed by the way the matter was handled in this case and I would encourage claimants not to be disuaded from pursuing a legitimate claim.