The great train robbery? How rail firms make millions from running late

Franchises claim huge sums from Network Rail for delays – so where does all the cash go?

Private rail companies are raking in more than £100m a year in compensation for late trains that they are not passing on to affected customers.

Click here to view the 'Off track: Raw deal on the railways' graphic

Under Britain's complicated rail franchise system, private train operators are able to claim compensation from the state-owned track operator Network Rail for problems on the line which cause disruption to services.

But just a fraction of this money is being passed on to customers, research has revealed for the first time.

In the last year train operators received £172m from Network Rail for delays, but figures from eight of the private rail franchisees showed they only passed on £10m to passengers.

Overall there are 23 rail operating companies – suggesting that the total shortfall in customer compensation is likely to be around £150m.

The rail operating firm that passed on the most compensation to customers is the publicly owned East Coast line running from London to Scotland which paid out £6.6m. By comparison the privately run CrossCountry service, which also runs long distance trains, paid out just £1m.

On average the private firms paid out just £400,000 to customers for delays last year. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which unearthed the figures using the Freedom of Information act, said it had now written to the Transport Select Committee calling on it to mount an inquiry into what it described as "daylight robbery" of taxpayers and passengers. The Department of Transport said it would be contracting rail companies to ensure that they were not "deliberately exploiting" passengers and the taxpayer.

Under the current system train operating companies can claim compensation from Network Rail if their services are delayed by more than five minutes because of problems affecting the line. However, customers have to be delayed more than half an hour before being eligible for any compensation at all. In order to get a full refund the train has to be over two hours late.

Network Rail admitted that the current system "was not perfect", but said the status quo was set at the time of privatisation and could only be changed by the Government.

They pointed out that rail companies had other costs associated with delays other than customer compensation, but admitted that there did appear to be a disparity between what customers got in compensation and what was paid out to train operating companies. "When the system was first set up it was intended to be revenue neutral and designed to encourage Network Rail to minimise delays," said a spokesman. "Whether that is still the case is open to question. But this is the system that we have and it is open to Government to change it."

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said the current arrangement amounted to a "rigged system" where private rail firms got millions from the taxpayer. "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," he said.

"If the private operators were as open and honest as East Coast, they would have paid out well over £100m rather than a miserly £10m. Private firms prefer to play Scrooge, placing as many hurdles as possible in their way before handing over any cash."

Transport Minister Norman Baker suggested the Government might be open to change the system. "I want assurances we have the correct incentive system for train operators to force Network Rail to improve the performance of the nation's rail infrastructure."

Louise Ellman, chairman of the Transport Select Committee, said she and her fellow MPs would be examining the issue in detail. "This is of great concern to us. We are currently undertaking a report into the rail network of which this will certainly be part, but we want to ensure that the system works in the interests of the passenger rather than train companies."

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 ... 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."

Train delayed? How to claim

Claiming compensation can be an uncertain business for passengers with each rail company having its own terms and conditions on what can be claimed and when. Most operators have a system whereby compensation is paid for delays of more than 30 minutes when passengers can expect to be refunded half the fare. Delays of more than an hour are usually compensated with full refunds. However, most compensation is paid in the form of travel vouchers rather than cash.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn