Rail passengers' £100m missed opportunity to heap pressure on under-performing train operators

An increase in the amount of claims would "send a message" to train operators that reliability must improve, according to watchdog Transport Focus. Picture by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.
An increase in the amount of claims would "send a message" to train operators that reliability must improve, according to watchdog Transport Focus. Picture by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.

Rail passengers can heap pressure on train operators to improve service reliability by ensuring delay compensation worth millions of pounds does not go unclaimed, according to an independent watchdog.

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One in every seven trains were delayed by at least five minutes in 2018. Picture by James Hardisty.

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Transport Focus is urging passengers not to miss the chance to “make their voice heard” after it found that as much as £100m in valid compensation payments went unclaimed in 2017/18.

The plea comes in the wake of a damning report, published on Friday, which highlighted that the North’s rail infrastructure is suffering from “overcrowding, short-formed trains, reliability issues and bottlenecks”.

The Blake Jones Review was set up in the aftermath of the May 2018 rail timetable chaos, a situation that prompted The Yorkshire Post to join forces with more than 20 other newspapers and rival publishers across the North to launch the One North campaign, which made the voice of commuters heard at Westminster.

A year on and this newspaper, together with its northern rivals, is demanding action to tackle inadequate service provision. The Power Up The North calls for the North’s economy to be turbo-charged through various measures, including an overhaul of the region’s rail network as a part of a wider environmental plan, with devolved funding and powers; and by making Northern Powerhouse Rail a national priority.

Passengers can play their part in driving rail improvements by ensuring operators are forced to pay compensation whenever service delays trigger claims, Transport Focus said.

Just 35 per cent of eligible passengers submitted compensation claims in 2017/18, according to the group’s latest report. This was despite one in seven trains being delayed by at least five minutes as punctuality on Britain’s rail network fell to a 13-year low in 2018.

'More awareness and more action is needed'

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said too many passengers are missing out, as he launched a new Make Delay Pay campaign.

“When things go wrong, train operators must ensure every eligible passenger knows about delay repay and how to claim,” he said. “They must also do more to make it easy to claim and automate this process wherever possible.”

Mr Smith added: “To make their voice heard, passengers must claim every time.”

The amount of compensation a passenger is entitled to depends on the type and cost of their ticket, and the length of a delay.

Most firms offer the delay repay scheme, with some paying out when a journey is delayed by at least 15 minutes, but Transport Focus found claim rates to be lowest for shorter delays.

Just 18 per cent of passengers claim compensation for delays of 15 minutes or more, rising to 39 per cent for disruption lasting at least half an hour.

Recommendations

The watchdog wants passengers to be given more choice about how claims can be made and payments sent; better promotion of how and when passengers can claim, including via announcements on trains, and more automated compensation schemes to be set up.

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We want passengers to get the compensation they’re entitled to and train companies have helped to increase compensation payments by 80 per cent over the last two years.

“Working together, we’re sending personal alerts through Facebook, making more station announcements, and more train operators are offering ‘one click’ or automatic compensation.”