Train companies were accused last night of hiding passengers’ rights to compensation behind a “smokescreen” of confusing terms and conditions.
Under legislation which came into force on the railways last October, passengers are entitled to claim for “consequential losses” such as missed flights, taxi fares and child-minding fees, when a service is not provided with “reasonable care and skill”.
But operators are using industry-wide terms and conditions to conceal the details from customers, the consumer group Which? claimed.
It said the National Rail Conditions of Travel undermined passenger rights by unlawfully limiting liability for train firms.
The organisation also found that 17 out of 24 operators were not providing enough information on passengers’ rights on their websites.
Many include references to consumers’ legal rights to compensation but fail to make clear this includes rights enshrined in the new Consumer Rights Act, it added.
Which? director of campaigns, Vickie Sheriff, said: “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.
“Passengers have rights and must be aware of what they can claim for when they have a problem with their service. Train companies urgently need to address the misleading information they’re providing on their websites and comply fully with the law.”
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, denied its members were breaking any laws.
A spokesman said: “Train companies’ compensation arrangements already go beyond what is required under consumer law, and customers are getting an even better deal with new improved rights.
“Customers are clearly advised of their rights to money back. All train companies comply with the Consumer Rights Act and display the National Rail Conditions of Travel - which are approved by the Government - on their websites.
“Train companies will always consider reasonable claims for consequential loss where appropriate.”
The latest biannual National Rail Passenger Survey by Transport Focus last autumn revealed that just 81 per cent of passengers were satisfied with Britain’s railways, a figure that has not been lower since spring 2007.
Punctuality has reached its lowest point in more than a decade with more than one in 10 trains failing to reach their destinations on time last year.
This is the worst performance for a 12-month period since the year ending September 2006.
Earlier this month, The Yorkshire Post revealed that on many of the county’s busiest routes, punctuality was even worse, with more than half the trains arriving late during the first part of the winter.
The anomaly is caused by the rail industry’s practice of reporting services “on time” if they arrive at their final destination within five or ten minutes of schedule.
A separate report said a fifth of Britons were “resigned to poor service” on the railways.
Ombudsman Services found that long-term issues had resulted in “high levels of disillusionment”. The most common complaints were for punctuality issues, poor customer service and overcrowding.
Lianna Etkind Campaign, from the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “No other service industry would get away with treating its customers so appallingly.”
Rail fares increased by an average of 2.3 per cent last month.