A rail workers' union today called for a parliamentary inquiry into refunds for delayed trains after claiming that passengers were being “ripped off”.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association claimed that train operators received £172 million from Network Rail in the past year for delays, but only passed on £10 million to passengers, leaving a shortfall of more than £150 million.
The union highlighted publicly owned East Coast, which it said paid out £6.6 million, compared with an average of £400,000 from each of the privately run operators.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes called on the Commons Transport Select Committee to mount an inquiry into what he called "daylight robbery" of taxpayers and passengers.
"This amounts to a rigged system whereby the private rail firms get millions from the taxpayer if their trains are five minutes late and the poor passenger only get a full refund if their train is two hours late.
"The fact that the publicly run East Coast line is paying out 15 times more than the average for the private operators when it comes to refunds shows that there is something seriously wrong with the current system.
"If the private operators were as open and honest as East Coast, they would have paid out well over £100 million rather than a miserly £10 million.
"East Coast is proactive when it comes to giving out refunds, telling passengers on board and at their stations how to claim.
"Private firms prefer to play Scrooge, placing as many hurdles as possible in their way before handing over any cash."
Mr Cortes is writing to Louise Ellman, chairman of the Transport Select Committee, urging her to mount an immediate inquiry into system he described as a "one-way ticket for the private rail firm to pocket millions".
A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "This claim demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of how the railway works. Under a system regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation, Network Rail pays money to operators for problems which cause disruption to services and put people off from travelling by train in the future.
"As part of entirely separate arrangements, passenger compensation has become increasingly generous and easy to apply for. As a general principle, train companies will compensate anyone who has bought a ticket for a journey that is cancelled or substantially delayed."
Transport Minister Norman Baker said: "Passengers should be at the heart of train companies' operations and I want to see this reflected in compensation regimes. Though I have seen no evidence that operators are deliberately exploiting them to the disadvantage of passengers, I still want a solid reassurance, which is why I have been discussing the issue with the Office ofRail Regulation and the Association of Train Operators.
"Both ORR and ATOC have undertaken a detailed analysis of the current system and in parallel have been consulting on possible improvements to these regimes when they are next updated in 2014. Both myself and passengers want assurances we have the correct incentive system for train operators to force Network Rail to improve the performance of the nation's railinfrastructure."