The Consumer was intending to travel from a remote station, following a long walk, and had checked timetables a few days before the journey date and found the selected train to be available seven days a week. The Consumer arrived at the station a few hours before the train, and therefore waited at the station until the departure time but no train arrived. The Consumer complained to the RSP that they waited until 30 minutes after the departure time and then sought alternative transport, which was very difficult to find. The Consumer noted within their complaint that they had no telephone signal at this station, there were no signs or information at the station, and the telephone box on site was broken.
The RSP’s response advised that the service was cancelled at 3am the day before travel, so the Consumer would have known if they had checked online before travel, and a replacement bus service was available. The RSP confirmed that the station does not have a PA system or customer information screens, so passengers cannot be updated in real time, but declined to offer compensation because the service change was advertised in advance and alternative services provided. The Consumer disputed that there was an alternative bus service, stating that they would have heard it arrive.
The Consumer was seeking an apology and explanation which accepted that more information should have been provided, and compensation for their disrupted plans.
What the Ombudsman did
The Ombudsman discussed the incident with the RSP who reiterated their apology and advised the feedback had been given to station management. The RSP reiterated the difficulties in getting live information to an unmanned station. The Consumer did not accept this explanation and asserted that a poster highlighting cancellations that day would have saved them hours of time.
The Ombudsman reviewed National Rail Enquiries which confirmed that the station was unmanned with no train announcements and no customer help points. A telephone number is provided in case the station is unstaffed. The Ombudsman reviewed online information about network coverage in the area and found information which supported that there was very limited coverage. From reviewing the map, it appeared reasonable that the bus service might be missed if it was not expected.
The Consumer had evidenced intention to travel, but had not actually purchased a ticket, so no compensation could be awarded. In addition, the train cancellation was advertised at 3am that day which meant that it would have been difficult to provide physical poster information at the station. Furthermore, the RSP was found to have handled the complaint proportionately with an apology and explanation. However, recommendations were made about provision of information at remote stations.
- That the RSP and industry consider how to better manage expectations in relation to timetabling changes.
- That the RSP considers how to better inform passengers of timetabling changes at remote stations and/or better manage expectations through station information online.
- That the RSP amends their Passenger Information Systems information under National Rail Enquiries and on their website, so it clearly advises that there are no screens or announcements.
Advice to Consumers
The Rail Ombudsman encourages consumers to remember their responsibility to check before travel, and to be aware that service changes can happen at short notice. We also encourage consumers to be aware that smaller and more remote stations may have limited facilities for providing live information updates, which makes checking before travel even more important.