Compensation for delayed train passengers falls despite punctuality plummeting to 14-year low

25 October 2019, 09:31

File photo: Delayed Thameslink passengers at King's Cross St Pancras
File photo: Delayed Thameslink passengers at King's Cross St Pancras. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Compensation paid to delayed train passengers fell two per cent last year despite punctuality plummeting to its lowest level for 14 years.

Train operators paid out £79 million in total during the 2018/19 financial year, down 2.1 per cent on the previous 12 months.

But Department for Transport (DfT) data shows just 86.3 per cent of trains reached their destination within ten minutes of the schedule for long-distance services or five minutes for short-distance journeys - down 1.5 per cent.

Most train companies require passenger to submit a claim for compensation when services are delayed, and the amount payable depends on the operator, the length of delay and the ticket held.

That means the total compensation paid and the overall punctuality performance of the railways are not proportionally linked, as one delayed long-distance train could result in larger payouts than several disrupted commuter trains.

Although compensation payouts fell in the past 12 months, they were still 76 per cent higher than in 2015/16.

A recent report by independent watchdog Transport Focus found that as much as £100 million of compensation went unclaimed in 2017/18 as just one third of passengers submitted claims.

The organisation's director, David Sidebottom, said: "The rail industry should introduce more automated compensation for delays and cancellations, and ensure every eligible passenger knows how to claim so that they get the money they are entitled to.

"To make their voice heard passengers must claim every time and make delay pay."

Jacqueline Starr, chief operating officer of industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: "Providing a great service for our customers is at the heart of everything we do and we are sorry when we fall short.

"Alongside unprecedented investment to improve journeys, including the roll-out of 7,000 new train carriages, operators have driven up the amount of compensation paid by 75% over the last three years by making claims quicker and easier."

Passengers travelling on London North Eastern Railway and its predecessor, Virgin Trains East Coast, were paid the most compensation in 2018/19 at £18.4 million.

Operators whose services were crippled during the chaotic launch of new timetables in May 2018 bucked the overall trend by increasing their payouts.

Northern paid out £1.6 million compared with £0.6 million during the previous 12 months, while Govia Thameslink Railway's annual payments increased from £4.2 million to £8.0 million.

A DfT spokesman said: "Our absolute priority is ensuring trains run on time and passengers have the reliable services they deserve. However, it is absolutely right that, when things go wrong, passengers are compensated fairly and quickly."