New analysis shows the scale of the problems on Lancashire’s railways last year and highlights that getting compensation for delays or cancellations across the UK is a postcode lottery.
The chaos caused by over-running track works, a bungled introduction of the May timetable and strikes led to more than 30,000 trains delayed or cancelled between April 1 and October 31 last year according to Office of Rail and Road figures.
Passengers across Lancashire faced delays particularly on Northern Trains, Transpennine Express as well as Virgin as work on electrification on the lines and upgrading of bridges and tracks between Manchester, Preston and Blackpool over-ran.
The May timetable introduction caused chaos with rolling stock and drivers unavailable. A temporary reduced timetable had to be brought in to try to reduce the disruption.
The situation has been described as “absolutely horrendous” by one county rail users’ group, which points out that the figures would be worse if not for that fact that trains are classed as on time if they arrive within ten minutes of the advertised arrival time.
Paul Nettleton from the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Rail Users’ Association said: “Quite frankly I find the figures absolutely horrendous.
“Let’s face it, you have to ask ‘where has it all gone wrong ?’ Britain gave the world railways but we have fallen well behind a lot of other countries who have got it right.
“To be fair to Northern their percentage of claims paid out compares reasonably well with other train operating companies, but the figures are way too high.
“Even though all the companies mentioned are privately run, I assume that it will be the taxpayer footing the bill.
“The amount of cancelled or delayed trains would presumably include those affected by the RMT strikes, which did no favours at all for Blackpool. To not have trains running on a Saturday was completely unacceptable.
“Of course, the majority of these problems lay firmly at the door of Network Rail when they moved a lot of their operations out of London and relocated to Milton Keynes.
“In doing so, they lost a lot of staff not wishing to make the move, and a lot of their experienced personnel came from the timetabling department, and it was this scenario led to the mess we witnessed in May last year.
“It’s amazing how you have two ends of the scale when you compare British Railways who still claim a train is on time if it arrives within ten minutes of that advertised, and Japanese Railways. If one of their bullet trains arrives thirty seconds late, there’s virtually a public enquiry.
“The mindset certainly needs to change in this country.
“There just doesn’t seem to be anybody willing to take responsibility, and having a Secretary of State for Transport seemingly clueless when it comes to overseeing a timetable change that he was told was highly unlikely to deliver, does not help.”
Alan Fantom from the Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association said Delay Repay was making things better for compensation but the emphasis should be on getting the rail system running properly.
He said: “Delay repay is facilitating things much better and we are not getting as many grumbles. Having said that there is a lot of weariness from passengers.
“Many just have not been bothering to claim and many had difficulties evidencing their travel claims.”
He said some struggled to get payouts for having to have got taxis or if their journey was across more than one operator.
“There is a lack of integration but that is symptomatic of many things on the railway system. It would be better if the operators could manage the system so it works so there was no need for compensation.”
What the rail firms had to say
A Northern spokesman said: “Every single valid Delay Repay claim, with the correct information provided by the customer, is paid quickly and efficiently with a negligible number of rejections.
“We promote Delay Repay 15 heavily in stations through posters and leaflets, on train announcements, across social media and on our website. Our processes and results are reviewed by the DfT regularly.
“Customer awareness of Delay Repay and propensity to claim is evident in the fact that, since the peak of claims caused by the May timetable last year, the volume of claims has reduced in line with performance improvements but remains at twice the level of before.”
A spokesman for TransPennine Express said: “We want to make it as easy as possible for customers to receive compensation when things go wrong.
“Our customers can already apply for Delay Repay compensation for delays of 30 minutes or more which is something we advertise via a range of methods including announcements, on posters and on our website.
“We have plans to further enhance this scheme, including the introduction of automatic delay repay later this year.”
She said they were working on the details of this automated repayment scheme, which will go live later this year.
A Virgin Trains spokesman said: “We have been the industry leaders in automatic delay repay since we launched our pioneering system back in 2015. Anyone who books an Advance ticket via our website will get compensation straight into their account within three days of their delayed journey.”
Robert Nisbet, regional director at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents railway companies, said: “We want to make it easier for customers to get compensation if they’ve been delayed, and some train companies have introduced automatic refunds which has helped claims increase by 80 per cent over the last two years.
“To encourage more customers to claim, train companies are handing out claim forms, making more announcements on trains and making it easier to claim online.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “The Government is committed to making it simpler and easier for passengers to get the compensation they deserve when things go wrong.
“That includes working to roll out Delay Repay 15 on all operators and introducing speedy ‘one-click’ compensation on future franchises.
“We have also worked with industry to introduce a new Rail Ombudsman, providing a free, easily accessible dispute resolution scheme for when passengers are dissatisfied with the response to their complaint.”