/ Travel & Leisure

Are train companies ignoring your rights?

Ignore sign

It’s now six months since the Consumer Rights Act came into force in the rail industry but train companies are acting as if they are above the law and this is going unchallenged.

This isn’t on. So we’ve written to 24 train companies we’ve found to be breaking consumer law, calling on them to address breaches of consumer protection law that we’ve uncovered.

Rail rights

It’s clear that train companies are failing to properly inform passengers about their rights.

We’ve told train companies that they shouldn’t use confusing and misleading industry-wide terms and conditions as a smokescreen to stop their customers from claiming for consequential losses as a result of poor service.

Under the Consumer Rights Act (CRA), which came into force in the rail industry on 1 October 2016, passengers are entitled to claim for a wide range of problems when a service hasn’t been delivered with ‘reasonable care and skill’ – a wonderfully confusing phrase in itself.

Passengers also have the right to claim for consequential losses that result from a delayed or cancelled train – this might be reasonable costs for missed flights, taxi fares, or extra child-minding fees incurred because of a shoddy rail service.

Sneaky tactics

Now, the rail industry (excluding the Heathrow Express) currently relies on industry-wide terms and conditions called the ‘National Rail Conditions of Travel’.

These undermine passenger rights by unlawfully limiting liability for train companies so they don’t have to pay out compensation in certain circumstances, such as for consequential losses.

This is not in line with consumer law.

Passengers have the right to claim when a train company has caused them to, for example, miss a flight or have to fork out for a taxi when they are left stranded by a cancelled train. From what many of our campaign supporters have told us, this out of pocket expense isn’t all that uncommon either.

Of the 24 train companies, we also believe that 17 aren’t providing enough information on passengers’ new rights on their websites.

Many train companies include references to legal rights for compensation on their websites yet they’ve failed to make it clear that this covers those in the Consumer Rights Act too.

Train companies who are failing to make this clear are potentially in breach of both the CRA as well as other consumer protection law, as it may mislead passengers into thinking they can’t make a claim.

Better rail services

With almost 50,000 people who’ve joined our campaign to demand better rail services, it’s clear that rail passengers expect much more from train companies.

We’ve called on train operators to make changes and respond by Wednesday 1 March.

Train companies urgently need to address the misleading information they’re providing and comply fully with the law.

Have you tried claiming for out of pocket costs as a result of poor service? Does your train company meet your expectations, or do you think it could be doing more?

Email pictures of your train experience to us at: which.campaigns@which.co.uk


Some companies and even individuals will try to get away by doing any way they can to avoid paying what they should pay breaking the law until caught and then continuing to delay payments due for as long as they possibly can now using legal loopholes in the law Keep naming and shaming them Which

I am very pleased that Which? is taking this action.

Disgracefully, the advice given to passengers on the National Rail Enquiries website in respect of the National Conditions of Travel is as follows :

The Consumer Rights Act (CRA) applies to the rail industry from 1 October 20016 [sic]. The Train Companies’ existing processes for dealing with complaints and claims go beyond the requirements of the CRA, and remain the best way to access your rights. Please read the Consumer Rights Act FAQs for more details on what this means for you.”

This is weasel wording about accessing “your rights” but it gives the misleading impression that the remedies available from the train operating companies are better than those available under the CRA. It is only about the administrative processes for dealing with complaints and claims.

Most train companies have not yet woken up to the fact that the National Conditions of Travel have replaced the National Rail Conditions of Carriage.

Does this apply to all railway companies or only to those that were formerly nationalised?
There are some independent railway companies, a few of some antiquity; one claims to be the oldest railway company in the world.

As a piece of subordinate legislation under the Consumer Rights Act it applies to all train operating companies that operate public rail services whether they are franchised operators or open-access operators. Preserved railways and any other independent railways do not generally provide public rail services according to a contract with the government; they are outside the national complaint and compensation schemes so the regulations would not apply to them. Operators of private excursions and rail tours on the national rail network are not subject to the same scheme either. Independent railways would be able to have their own schemes if they wished but their own terms and conditions of carriage would probably exclude the same sort of rights that apply to the national rail train operating companies since there is no public service obligation. Services operated by Transport for London as London Overground are part of the national rail system, but London Underground services are not, even when they are running on the same [or parallel] tracks and calling at the same stations as national rail trains but their own conditions are comparable or superior to the national rail scheme.

Don Sharpe says:
27 February 2017

We booked seats on a train from Exeter to Bristol. It was bad enough that we were herded on to the train , like cattle, by the station staff anxious to get the train away on time. The train was so full, we had stand like sardines. It was impossible to get into the coach, where the seats should have been. We got out at the next stop to move to a different coach to find that almost as full but we were able to move slightly. On the way back the booked seats were not recorded. So we had to stand in both directions.

Same thing happened to my husband and I when travelling to Cardiff for Xmas shopping we were like sardines too !!!!!

I am afraid, Darren, that we have all become conditioned to expect the service we get rather than the one we think our ticket entitles us to. Occasionally, as a surprise, we get a much better service than we expect.

Or did you mean “We’re looking for examples where passengers have not received the service expected”?

Personally I have no complaints about rail services I have used for many years including the London East Coast route to Yorkshire and now the South West trains route Waterloo to Exeter.
Indeed at times when there have been delays the conductor has walked along giving out claim forms and helped people fill them in.

R Heller says:
27 February 2017

Sometimes i have received compensation including a refund of the whole ticket when the delay was not the train operator’s fault.

Do you work for any train company, for although due to volume it must be rare.

I personally avoid trains unless there is no realistic option, for the are totally over pricing.

Peter Taylor says:
27 February 2017

I do agree that a refund should be made even if the delay is not the train operator’s fault . However in the case of the recent storm Doris in which I was caught up in a small way I would not expect re-imbursment for air fares etc. Travel insurance should cover that.

The problem is Winter storms are the largest cause of delay and cancellation on my journey’s – Brunel built a railway on a sea wall – and Cross Country and GWR Local have rolling stock that CANNOT travel down it at a High Tide on a blustery day. – When Strategic Rail Authority, Railtrack (as was) and Virgin Cross Country designed a rolling stock for Operation Princess in 2002 it omitted to advise Bombardier that the trains operated on a seawall and therefore essential equipment was placed on the roofs to save cabin space. – this stops the train when hit with seawater – hence 1 train per hour Exeter- Plymouth & vv is cancelled. Add to this at strom times that Pacer have a risk of having doors, windows broken open with wave power and service grinds down to HST and Sprinter operated locals only. – leaving trains woefully overcrowded and delayed. The case for Loco hauling and push-pull is strong for Cross Country and regional long distance – freeing up heavier Sprinters for local services.

Jim White says:
27 February 2017

Jan 21st Altrincham to Paisley and return, eight trains, three different companies. Max delay 4 minutes, no overcrowding. It is not all bad.

Train companies should be made to comply with these new laws and all other laws . Customers should not have to fight for their rights, that are binding in law. If it was not for your organisation, big companies would try every way to not comply with their legal duties. Thank you for your on going campaignes like this, which without your help, would leave customers feeling frustrated at big companies lack of duty of care to their customers.

Jimbo says:
27 February 2017

The main purpose of the rail companies to maximise profit and returns to shareholders and stake holders. It is a requirement of English company law. Passengers/customers are very much a secondary consideration. Most of the suburban rail routes are private monopolies: I can only travel on Northern Rail there is no other choice. The rush hour trains are dangerously overcrowded and no one cares.

Private monopolies are historically notorious for being inefficient and accountable to no-one. That is what we voted for and that is what we’ve got.

Glenn Ridehalgh says:
27 February 2017

Having been a Train driver for 36 years!!!! never had problem!!! {good things are worth waiting for!!}

Your seat was always reserved.

Used to love the nationalised British Rail in the old days. If you ever take a train in Germany or Japan shows how can be done.

Only rarely use trains, and they have been fine.

But the new Kings Cross is a freezing hell hole to have to wait for a pre-booked train if you arrive early. Despite numerous Virgin emails reminding us about our trains nowhere did they mention we were eligible to use the 1st class lounge, which used to be restricted to those purchasing full price tickets. But we would still have had an hour or so at Freezing temperatures, a coffee bar we used was unheated.

To those saying train services are OK I’d simply ask “are you commuters?” Not that you have to be of course, but I suggest that the experience for commuters is – and regularly at that – much worse than for most other rail journeys. And the necessary compensation system is evasive.

But then you pay less per mile that people travelling on business or short notice personal trips (funerals, family illness) and are treated as royalty by the TOC’s who want your payment up front.

I am pleased for those younger than me who are entitled to make claims for disrupted travel, as I’m sure that the action of making the claim itself helps to relieve the frustration and disappointment. Also the company’s acknowledgement of the claim serves as a partial apology.

Sadly, although my frustration is no less than the next person’s and my day just as disrupted as the next person’s and I may have to pay for alternative transport, can I claim? No!

I don’t qualify for even the slightest apology because my travel pass came to me at no cost.

Sheelagh Dunk says:
27 February 2017

We were denied compensation on Southern rail (cancelled trains and real problem getting to Gatwick airport from Hove. A train arrived , 45 minutes later, as we were about to go and get a taxi as in danger of missing our flight but compensation denied as I couldn’t produce ticket.
Silly me! I had to give in at barrier to exit and didn’t take a photo of it. I did give evidence of purchase. This was not acceptable.
I only claimed as my family travelling to work from Hove to London have had a terrible year and we wanted to support their action for refunds.

Yet another email from Which? disguised as a ‘Campaigns’ email which is going to ask questions about our experiences but, when you click on ‘Share your train hell’ (which you could think is a little biased to begin with!), all you get is an invitation to click on a link to ‘Sign our petition to demand better rail services’.

And they only want to ‘share stories and photos of your miserable train journeys’. Not jolly, successful ones.

In fact, last Thursday, when Storm Doris wrought havoc and trains were unavoidably cancelled, Greater Anglia did a great job in getting me, and many other passengers, home. Sorry if it doesn’t fit in with the ‘Campaign’.

I agree, Biggles. I travel by train infrequently – about six or eight times a year. Four or five years ago, all trains out of Scotland were cancelled early in the New Year because of storms. The following day I did get back home though the journey took a several hours longer than expected because of changed connections and waiting time. Others would complain but in the circumstances I was impressed by the efforts made to run services in difficult conditions.

On a recent journey I was not charged for not having my Railcard with me and on another we were invited to move carriage because there was a problem with the heating in one of them. I have a great deal of sympathy for those who have had many bad experiences, but I’m not one of them. I have had a whinge about the complexity of train fares and the need to take the payment card to be able to collect tickets purchased online.

What about track-side residents who suffer levels of rail noise and vibration the World Health Organisation consider dangerous? 5000 ton stone trains travelling at 60 mph just 7.5 metres from people’s bedrooms?

I have not been on a train in this country for about 20 years. I do not know how to purchase a ticket in advance. I do not have a smart ‘phone thingy. My last journey was from an unmanned station where the ticket machine had been vandalised and I was charged a penalty fare on arrival at my destination for travelling without a ticket.

Sylvia-Ann Dwen says:
28 February 2017

My train to Brighton from Victoria was cancelled at midnight, after an hour’s wait for a decision. Then the replacement bus laid on, developed a broken suspension. We subsequently took over 2 hours crawling to Redhill on an unsafe bus. At this point a door fault developed and I and other passengers left the bus and shared a taxi back to Brighton. Southern paid for the taxi, but took no responsibility whatsoever for the excruciating bus journey, saying it was nothing to do with them, as did the bus driver, who said that he didn’t work for Southern. Surely the train company has a responsibility to make sure the replacement bus is safe and gets passengers home in reasonable time. That journey took around four hours in total!

The level of customer support and help, especially in times of disruption, varies enormously by train operator and place. I am an irregular business traveller (not usually leisure) so get to observe all sorts of places. Unlike many travellers, i do know how the rail netwoek operates and how to plan and modify my journey around issues. Indeed, from time to time i have advised fellow travellers when staff would (or could) not. It is fair East Coast services, my ‘core’ route, have over many years had problems – but the staff desire to help has not been an issue even when National Express was the demoralising operator they worked for. Delay Repay is axtually advertised when relecant. Well done! Railway professionals to the core – probably a long standing staff culture that privatisation didn’t break! Cross Country? Not so good, try to avoid delay repay when they can and will terminate long distance trains short when it’s convenient operationally. Southern staff have been the least helpful – especially at London Bridge, they have repeatedly been plain awkward and uninterested. It is true that i take the potential for disruption into account in planning journeys – especially airport links – so I tend to be able to work around problems. Not all travellers have this experience – especially new and less tech savvy rail users – and that is why TOCs need to be forced to accept and deliver the obligation to ensure the passenger can finish their journey in times of disruption. Like the airline industry, some already do (e.g. Easyjet who pay up better than any big carrier) but others do not (TAP and Ryanair, I’m looking at you! ).