Railway season ticket holders are being ripped off on routes where there are constant delays and it’s time for the Department of Transport to take action.
Train delays are sometimes inevitable. When customers are delayed for 30 minutes or longer, they are entitled compensation. But this is not the case for persistent, but shorter delays which cumulatively are just as bad. I have now taken this up with ministers at the Department for Transport.
The issue of persistent train delays disproportionately affects daily commuters, many of whom have to fork out thousands of pounds a year for season tickets. So a standard class annual season ticket from Lichfield to London Euston for example costs £10,312 and a first class season ticket over £17,000. A reliable service is not a big ask.
Over the course of a working year, a commuter could lose 230 hours of their time to delays and still not receive a single penny in compensation. This is the scandal of persistent delays on our railways.
So while cancellations and long delays understandably provoke outrage among passengers, the small but regular delays go under the radar. Eventually, they may even become accepted.
While arriving at your destination five minutes late may not seem particularly scandalous, these delays can soon add up. An average delay of only five minutes a working day each way adds up to 200 minutes over four weeks, or 40 hours over a 48 week working year.
Delays are a natural part of business. It would unreasonable to expect rail operators to have to pay for every late minute.
An average delay of only five minutes a working day each way adds up to 200 minutes over four weeks, or 40 hours over a 48 week working year
However, it is also not fair to expect season ticket holders to pay ever larger sums of money each year when they are losing hours, sometimes days, in cumulative uncompensated delays.
There needs to be a mechanism put in place to compensate these commuters. It seems absurd that a one-off, half hour delay merits compensation when persistent but smaller delays do not. If your train is supposed to arrive at half past the hour but always gets there at twenty to, you’re being overcharged.
Clearly, there would have to be some sort of cut-off point. Delays of a couple of minutes are often not preventable. However, regular delays of between 10 and 30 minutes point to deeper structural problems, either with the rail operator or Network Rail.
It would perhaps make more sense if delay repayments were linked to a proportion of the journey time delayed. After all, a half hour delay on a two-hour train journey is more understandable than a 15 minute delay on a 20 minute journey.
At present, there is little motivation for rail operators to avoid smaller delays, not just because of the current compensation scheme, but also because of a lack of competition on many routes. This is why renationalising the railways, as Labour have pledged to do, would only exacerbate the problem.
It’s unlikely that we’ll ever be able to make the trains run on time all of the time. However, a smarter, more proportionate rail compensation scheme would at least help out long-suffering commuters and force the purveyors of persistent delays to shape up. Over to you, Department for Transport!
Michael Fabricant is the Conservative MP for Lichfield