Travelling by train to your Christmas Bubble?

The Rail Ombudsman’s guide to travel over the Christmas Period

Boris Johnson’s latest announcement that there will be a relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions during the Christmas period from 23rd to the 27th December means thoughts will be turning to who we will be sharing the festivities with and the travel arrangements to get us to those who will form part of our ‘Christmas bubble’.

2020 has seen fast-paced, ever changing situations for passengers and rail service providers alike. Therefore, at the Rail Ombudsman, we believe it is more important than ever before to follow these five simple tips to ensure you reach your destination stress free.

Below are some tips for when planning to travel over the festive period:

  1. Check regular commute or timetabled services for scheduled engineering works. For example, London Kings Cross station is scheduled to close for planned engineering works between 25th December and 30th December with reduced capacity or disruption expected on the 24th December up until 3rd January. Impacting trains departing or terminating at the station, and therefore may affect journeys to or from stations including, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
  2. Make seat reservations where required or possible. If you’re travelling with luggage you may wish to request a seat close to luggage racks.
  3. Comply with current guidance either provided at local or national level and be aware of any changes that apply if you are travelling within the devolved nations, especially if your travel dates fall outside the 23rd to 27th December where restrictions may change quickly.
  4. Check the up-to-date information before you set off and leave plenty of time to allow for contingencies; train operator’s website may have the most up to date information.
  5. Check the terms and conditions attached to your ticket so that you know what to do if things change and you think you are eligible for a refund.

The Rail Ombudsman provides insight and information back to the industry from the cases that it considers and has found that the provision of information is a significant consideration in a range of complaints, and at times a driver of complaints in its own right (typically in the top 10 complaint categories). While it is paramount that rail service providers ensure clear, accurate and up-to-date information is available to consumers as accessibly as possible, it is also important that consumers check this before planning or embarking on their journeys.

Insights from the Ombudsman’s casebook indicate that quite often consumers are unaware of specific terms that are attached to the type of ticket they have purchased. For example, an advance ticket, bought for travel on a specific service is ‘non-refundable’ (unless the train is cancelled or delayed and you chose not to travel), any changes to the ticket must be made before the first train departs and will be subject to charges for any increase in price along with an administration fee, and if you miss that train, you will have to purchase a new ticket.

Other ticket types may allow for greater flexibility, making it all the more important that consumers understand what ticket types they are purchasing, what terms apply to them and whether these are subject to changes due to prevailing lockdown conditions.

Kevin Grix, CEO and Chief Ombudsman, Rail Ombudsman said, “Passengers  travelling by rail this festive season are offered an additional layer of protection and redress with our impartial, government approved Ombudsman scheme; a commitment to manage complaints formally and at a level that is higher than what the law prescribes.

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