Know your rights! Travelling by rail

As rail prices continue to rise while service seems to stagnate or even get worse, there’s never been a more appropriate time to brush up on your rights as a rail passenger – if you’ve experienced delays or cancellations you may be due compensation.

Travel within the UK

When you’re travelling wholly within the UK, the National Rail Conditions of Carriage set out your rights for when you travel.

If a train is delayed by more than an hour, or cancelled completely, and you decide you no longer wish to travel, you can claim a full refund of your ticket. You can also get a refund if you decide yourself that you no longer wish to travel, but this may incur a £10 admin fee deduction.

The only exception to this is when you’ve bought a certain ticket type, such as an Advance fare – the trade-off for a cheaper rate means that it is non-refundable.

Under the Delay Repay scheme, which has been adopted by most rail organisations in the UK (and must be adopted by any new franchises), you’re entitled to claim compensation if your train is delayed by at least 30 minutes and you still decide to travel.

Compensation levels are set by the rail organisation you travel with, but minimum standards are set for delays of one hour, which are:

  •          50% of the journey on a single ticket that is delayed
  •          50% of the total journey on a return ticket if both legs are delayed
  •          50% of the relevant portion of travel if one leg of a return journey is delayed

Season tickets can also benefit from compensation, either as direct refunds or as part of a larger renewal discount if the rail company consistently underperforms and therefore misses their targets.

With most organisations you can apply for compensation online, by post or in person – and you may be paid in rail tickets or vouchers, instead of cash. Claims must be made within 28 days of the journey. It’s worth reading the Passenger Charter for the rail company you’re using and familiarising yourself with their rules on compensation – you can find links to all the charters on this page.

Travel within the EU

You’re also entitled to recompense if you suffer long train delays while travelling in the EU. Your rights in this instance are protected by Regulation 1371/2007.

Beyond delays, the regulation ensures that you won’t pay more for a train ticket as a foreign national – you’re entitled to travel at the same cost as residents. Another more basic right as dictated by the regulation is that, if you do suffer a delay or cancellation, you’re entitled by law to adequate information about what is causing it and what your options are.

If you suffer a cancellation or a delay of over one hour, you are entitled to a full refund if you decide not to travel. If you’re changing train half way through a journey and a delay or cancellation makes your trip redundant, you could also be entitled to a free return ticket to your original departure station.

If you decide to continue your journey, you’re entitled to alternative transport if the rail service is suspended. If problems mean that you’re delayed for a significant amount of time you will also be provided with meals and, if necessary, accommodation for overnight delays.

As for financial compensation, you’re entitled to:

  •          25% of the ticket fare, for any delays of between 1 and 2 hours
  •          50% of the fare if your train is more than 2 hours late

You won’t be entitled to compensation if you’re already aware of the delay when you buy your ticket.

If you don’t feel like your complaint is resolved you can make a formal complaint direct to the rail line, which is obligated to reply within one month. If it does not, or you still feel like your complaint hasn’t been dealt with correctly, you can make a claim with the national body in charge of EU rail travel. In the UK this is the Office of Rail and Road – visit their website here:

Following a super complaint lodged at the end of 2015, more efforts are being put into helping customers understand their rail rights both in the UK and throughout the EU. Make sure you remember what you’re entitled to – and don’t be afraid to complain if your rights are being ignored!

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