The consumer intended to travel from a London station to an airport station in order to catch a flight. The consumer confirmed that he had left 4 hours to make the journey to ensure he had plenty of time. He had read the guidelines in the RSP’s passenger charter and those given by the airline.
When he arrived at the station, he was told that no services were running to the airport due to planned engineering works and a rail replacement bus was in service. The rail replacement bus took 3 and a half hours whereas the train had been scheduled to take 50 minutes. Upon realising this, the consumer decided to take a taxi to the airport which took just an hour but cost £90. The consumer’s claim was for £73.30, accounting for the cost of the taxi fare, minus £16.70, which would have been the train fare had he purchased a ticket. The consumer was eligible for his claim to be considered since, although he had not purchased a ticket, he had provided sufficient information (by way of corroborated statements from staff), that he had arrived at the station intending to travel.
The RSP explained that a rail replacement coach was provided due to the engineering works being carried out by Network Rail that were advertised over 13 weeks in advance of the date of incident. The RSP noted that the impact of the planned engineering works was widely advertised in advance, giving consumers time to make alternative arrangements, which was why they were unable to reimburse the taxi fare.
The consumer was given the opportunity to comment on the RSP’s response and disputed the fact that information was available. The RSP provided screenshots from their website advertising the engineering work and the rail replacement service. They also provided evidence showing us that information about the disruption was also on all journey planner websites and displayed at stations.
What the Ombudsman did
Mediation had not been possible, and the case proceeded to adjudication where the Ombudsman assessed the evidence provided by both parties and came to a decision.
The Ombudsman explained that the nature of planned engineering is to maintain the railway and ensure the safety of the rail network, within a time-frame which allows consumers to decide whether they wish to travel. Network Rail will undertake the work, as deemed necessary.
The Ombudsman noted that the RSP provided a screenshot of their website containing information about the planned disruption, which was uploaded on prior to the date of incident.
The Ombudsman also considered section 27.2 of the National Rail Conditions of Travel (“NRCoT”) which advises ‘the train company or Licensed Retailer from whom you purchased your Ticket will include any extended or altered times in timetable information. This information will also be provided at www.nationalrail.co.uk…’. The Ombudsman concluded that information had been available prior to the date of travel.
The Rail Ombudsman considers there to be an onus on the consumer to check their journey prior to travelling which enables them to make an informed choice when planning their travel.
The Ombudsman also referred to section 27.1 NRCoT reads; ‘from time to time, it may be necessary to replace a train service with a bus or a coach.’ Further information is provided; ‘Usually, such replacement bus and coach services will take longer than the scheduled time for the equivalent train service.’
In this instance, the Ombudsman was not able to uphold a claim in the consumer’s favour. The Ombudsman thought that the consumer had acted reasonably in taking a taxi to ensure he did not miss the flight, however some revised travel plans would have been necessary in any event and the RSP had provided and advertised a rail replacement bus service.
Note to Consumers:claims involving missed flights and additional costs incurred in such instances are not uncommon at the Ombudsman. It is the consumer’s responsibility to make sure they leave enough time and continue to check current information right up to the date of intended travel.
The Ombudsman has made recommendations to RSPs to provide information within their Passenger Charters about the time consumers should build-in prior to travel to ensure that they can make an informed decision about their travel plans.