The Rail Ombudsman has received a variety of escalations relating to travel during recent spells of severe weather which resulted in Do Not Travel warnings. Some examples are noted below:
- Consumer A is a season ticket holder who travelled to work with some delays, but found all services cancelled when they tried to return and no alternative transport available. They took a taxi and attempted to claim taxi fare of £50.00 from the Rail Service Provider (“RSP”).
- Consumer B complained whilst travelling, that they had been attempting to get home since 7am the previous day and questioned why there was no transport available for the last portion of the journey. The consumer had taken an extended two hour journey and it was the last short leg on which there were cancellations and therefore opted to take a taxi. The consumer wanted reimbursement of the taxi fare, as there were no alternative services offered.
- Consumer C was booked to travel on a Monday. They checked trains before travelling and found that services were running despite the Do Not Travel Notices that had been in place over the weekend. This consumer travelled and had a rail replacement provided to complete the first leg of the journey. However, they were unable to complete the last part of the journey due to cancellation of the last train, and no alternative train services or other modes of transport provided. The RSP rejected the claim outright on the basis of Do Not Travel messaging.
- Consumer D attempted travel despite severe weather warnings, and all services were cancelled with no alternative offered. So they booked a hotel and travelled the next day by coach. The RSP provided a refund, but offered no contribution to costs.
- Consumer E flew in to the country and had prebooked tickets to travel home by train. They travelled across London but found that the second leg was cancelled. The consumer stated that they were advised by staff to take a taxi to get home, which cost over £200.00. However, the RSP declined the claim for compensation.
The responses from different providers have varied. In some cases, Delay Repay or refund had been provided early on in the process. Some RSP’s did compensate for taxi claims, whilst others rejected them on the basis that there were notices warning of disruption, and in particular, notices advising ‘Do Not Travel’. In one case, the RSP referred to weather warnings that were communicated in the wake of the red and amber weather warnings that were issued by the Met Office. In some cases, alternative services were found to be available whereas in others, all services were cancelled with no alternative provision. The RSPs largely felt that the disruption was beyond their control due to the severe weather conditions.
What the Ombudsman did
In every case, the Ombudsman will try to find agreement between the parties.
The National Rail Conditions of Travel
The starting point in considering entitlement is the National Rail Conditions of Travel, which states:
27.2 If the replacement is at short notice and you cannot complete your journey because we are unable to transport your luggage, articles, animals and/or cycles by road vehicle, and you therefore decided not to travel, you will be entitled to claim a refund of your Ticket(s) under Conditions 30.1 – 30.4 without any administration charge for the journey…
28.2 Where disruption prevents you from completing the journey for which your Ticket is valid and is being used, any Train Company will, where it reasonably can, provide you with alternative means of travel to your destination, or if necessary, provide overnight accommodation for you…
Conditions 30.1 –30.4 cover all Tickets other than Season Tickets, and also apply if you have begun your journey but are unable to complete it due to a delay to, or cancellation of, your service. In such cases, you are permitted to return to your point of origin and still get a refund.
In Consumer B’s case, the consumer challenged the timing and content of the ‘Do Not Travel’ warning, noting that it advised to check before travel, which they did. Also that the messaging advised of no trains before lunchtime, and the consumer’s journey was due to begin in mid-afternoon. Furthermore, the consumer considered this an essential journey because they were travelling home after a period away, so overnight accommodation may have been required if it was not possible to complete the journey.
Following a period of mediation, the case was set to go to Adjudication as the parties could not reach agreement. The consumer had provided rail tickets and taxi receipt as evidence. The RSP provided evidence of the Do Not Travel messaging at the time. However, the RSP made a late offer of £30.00 to cover the evidenced taxi fare, which the consumer accepted in full and final settlement.
Where cases required Adjudication, the Rail Ombudsman reviewed the evidence provided by the RSP, particularly the timing and wording of the Do Not Travel notices, in relation to the time of travel. It was noted that this information was typically provided by the RSP in addition to the rail industry and other rail operators as well as the wider national media. Specific RSP messages were found, such as ‘we cannot guarantee that you’ll be able to complete your journey’ and ‘Alternative travel options are not available and we cannot guarantee you will be able to complete your full journey’, and ‘If you had already started your journey, we strongly recommend returning home and travelling another day.’
The specific reasons for travelling despite severe weather warnings was always considered.
In some cases, on the basis of the level of national media information provided, as well as specific messaging from the RSP, the Ombudsman concluded the consumer would reasonably have expected to incur substantial disruption or not be able to complete their journey using the railway. In opting to attempt to travel, it was considered that the consumer accepted the risks and was therefore responsible for bearing the cost of the alternative transport taken.
In Consumer D’s case, a red weather warning was put in place just before the Consumer began their journey. Furthermore, there had been a forecast of severe weather since at least the day before, alongside widespread national media information relating to this warning, as well as messaging from the RSP. On this basis, the Rail Ombudsman found that the consumer was reasonably informed prior to travel to expect substantial disruption or not be able to complete their journey using the railway. Additionally, the scheduled service and subsequent services were cancelled before departure, due to severe weather, which also impacted the ability to provide safe alternative services.
Conversely, in another case, the consumer’s expectation of services was considered reasonable, but as the consumer had not pre-purchased the ticket for the disputed portion of the journey, no award could be considered for the taxi cost.
A partial award was made for Consumer E, who had flown into the country and was able to partially complete their journey via train. A complaint handing award was made on the basis that the consumer had not been correctly directed to the appropriate RSP to obtain a refund under the Industry Arrangements within the time limits applicable. A partial award was made for the taxi claim, to recognise that the consumer may have been able to travel closer to their destination station via the delayed services which were running, and therefore could have mitigated costs. This award was made on the basis of a range of quotes evidencing likely taxi costs for the remainder of the journey.
Learning for the Rail Industry
In some cases. the provision of a generic response and refusal to consider the individual circumstances of the consumer, meant the RSP did not request evidence in the usual way. Had this been considered, tickets would have been requested, and the RSP could have struck the claim out on that basis with a clear explanation and signposting relevant to any entitlement, regardless of the storm messaging, and possibly have avoided escalation. No compensation was necessarily due, but a recommendation was made that the RSP considers the impact of providing generic responses.
The Rail Ombudsman has noted separately, there is confusion surrounding Do Not Travel notices and what they actually mean if services are still running. When services are still running, some consumers believe it is still reasonable to attempt travel. This is something that the Rail Ombudsman suggest the industry considers more broadly, particularly given the lack of consistency when a consumer is attempting to travel with multiple RSPs. Recommendations have also been made to consider replacement service provision given to particular travellers who may not able to avoid travelling, for example when home from airports.
The Rail Ombudsman wants to increase consumer awareness of the meaning of Do Not Travel messaging, as noted above. The rail companies will always attempt to run services where it is possible and safe to do so, but in advising ‘Do Not Travel’, they are attempting to minimise the amount of people using the network to enhance safety, because severe disruption is expected and alternative services may not available. There will usually be entitlement to a refund if this is the case (from the retailer), and/or alternative options to use tickets at a later date.
There is often confusion about whether to claim a refund or Delay Repay following disruption, and where to claim from. Delay Repay claims should be made to the RSP with whom a consumer travelled. If claiming a refund due to an abandoned journey, then a consumer would need to contact their ticket retailer. Where possible, speak to staff before exit, because gateline barriers, may not return tickets. For all claims, consumers are told to retain and provide tickets to the RSP. The Rail Ombudsman will consider photographic evidence.
Other advice includes to always get taxi receipt evidence; and where possible, seek advice from staff at stations or via the telephone or other media before taking a taxi. If the taxi has not been authorised, it may not be paid so consumers are advised to ensure they get evidence of any such pre-authorisation.
Finally, consumers are advised to always check before travel, regardless of the weather. Where relevant, Delay Repay will be measured against the ‘Published Timetable of the Day’ which can changed up to 22:00 the previous day, in line with the National Rail Conditions of Travel.