New Dispute Resolution Ombudsman to handle complaints from Yorkshire rail passengers

Rail passengers in Yorkshire can now turn to a new ombudsman if they are unhappy with the handling of their complaint.  Picture: Simon Hulme
Rail passengers in Yorkshire can now turn to a new ombudsman if they are unhappy with the handling of their complaint. Picture: Simon Hulme

Rail passengers who are unhappy with how their complaints have been handled will be able to use a new service from today.

The Dispute Resolution Ombudsman has been appointed to act as an independent body to hold train companies to account amid widespread public dissatisfaction with rail services.

Read more: Yorkshire’s six months of rail chaos exposed – Thousands of trains cancelled at least-reliable stations in UK

A new analysis by The Yorkshire Post, published on Saturday, revealed the extent of the ongoing problems which have engulfed the region’s rail network since May 20, when the largest-ever revision of the national rail timetable came into effect and caused chaos across the North.

Just 29 per cent of services have been on time at York and Huddersfield since then, according to data from performance tracking website On Time Trains.

The figures – combined with 2,130 cancelled services at York and 1,641 in Huddersfield – mean the two stations are the two least reliable large stations in the country to catch a train from.

Separate data from the Office of Rail and Road shows just 28 per cent of people who complained to a train company in 2017/18 were satisfied with the outcome.

The most common areas of complaints include punctuality or reliability, difficulties in buying a ticket and not being able to find a seat.

Read more: York, Huddersfield, Sheffield and Leeds among UK’s worst-performing railway stations – as region’s smaller stops also suffer

Decisions made by the new ombudsman will be binding and rail firms – who are footing the bill for the dispute service – must act on failings identified.

Passengers can go to the ombudsman if they are unhappy with the final response from a rail company or if their complaint has not been resolved within 40 working days.

Rail Minister Andrew Jones, the MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said it was a “significant step forward for passengers’ rights” and urged companies to “take this opportunity to improve their complaints process”.

Jacqueline Starr, a managing director at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said that the scheme would give passengers “even greater confidence that we’re doing as much as we can to get to a fair outcome”.

Today’s launch has also been welcomed by independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus, which said it would be tracking the work and effectiveness of the scheme very closely to ensure it delivers measurable benefits for passengers.

Its chief executive, Anthony Smith, said: “At last rail passengers will join other consumers in having access to free, independent, binding dispute resolution. It boosts consumer power and brings rail into line with other industries.

“We expect the ability of the Rail Ombudsman to impose binding decisions to resolve complaints – and the fact it can charge train companies fees for doing this – will drive improvements to the way most train operators handle passenger complaints.”

Read more: “We’ve been sacrificed by TransPennine Express” – Over 900 cancelled trains in six months for Colne Valley communities

As previously reported, figures compiled by On Time Trains showed three of Yorkshire’s four busiest stations are in the bottom 10 nationally for cancelled and delayed trains over the past six months.

Smaller railway stations in Yorkshire fare even worse, making up half of the 10 worst-performing stations in the entire country, and not a single Yorkshire station made it into the top 100 best performers.

Network Rail said the new winter timetable due to be introduced in December would see some modest improvements, while the Department for Transport said it was investing more than ever in the railway over the next five years, including £3bn to upgrade the railway between Manchester, Leeds and York.