Millions of rail passenger journeys experienced significant delays last year

Passengers lost at least 3,594,264 hours to significantly delayed journeys last year according to research from Which?

With rail fares due to rise by an average of 3.4% from 2 January, the consumer champion found that across all train companies under franchise, significant delays of at least 30 minutes affected 7,188,529 passenger journeys last year.

Analysis of data from the ORR, the rail regulator, found that Virgin Trains East Coast was the train company with the highest percentage of significant delays, with almost 4% (3.65%) of all their passenger journeys delayed between 30 minutes and two hours. It was followed by Virgin Trains West Coast (1.95%) and Grand Central (1.11%).

The train company with the lowest percentage of significant delays was c2c (0.16%), but even in this case, thousands of passenger journeys were still affected.

Under Delay Repay, which most operators have now signed up to, compensation should be paid for delays of 30 minutes or more. However, despite the high number of delays, separate Which? research shows there are still real issues in passengers receiving this money.

Which? made a super-complaint to the regulator two years ago over the poor rail compensation system, with the regulator agreeing that the situation required significant improvement.

Two in five (40%) commuter passengers said they weren’t told of their rights to compensation the last time they were delayed by an amount of time that would qualify for compensation. This rose to over half (54%) of leisure passengers surveyed who qualified.

Which? believes that train companies are not putting passengers first, and wants measures introduced so that delayed passengers are made aware of what compensation they could be owed.

Train companies must also simplify an often convoluted claim system for affected train travellers, that can involve completing a series of forms and further delays getting they money that they are owed. If train companies fail to do this, automatic compensation should be introduced across the industry, so that all passengers who suffer delays and cancellations are automatically compensated where possible.

Alex Hayman, Which? Managing Director of Public Markets, said:

“Passengers have told us about the serious impact train delays can have on their lives, and our analysis shows just how long passengers were stuck on, or waiting for, trains that were very late or didn’t even turn up at all. This is made even more infuriating when they struggle to claim the compensation they may be owed.

“The progress to date is simply not good enough. If train companies can’t simplify unnecessarily complex claims systems for delayed customers, then Government must press for automatic compensation to be introduced across the industry so that people can get the money they are owed.”


  1. Significant delays by train operating company (TOC) – Which? analysis of Office of Rail and Road (ORR) punctuality data. Only TOCs who have franchises with the Department for Transport were included: Arriva Trains Wales, Caledonian Sleeper, ScotRail, Merseyrail, London Overground, TfL Rail and Open Access providers were excluded from the calculations. Hours lost to delays were calculated assuming that all Significantly Late passenger journeys were delayed by 30 minutes.The data analysed covers the period between 1 April 2016 – 31 March 2017. South West Trains changed franchise operator earlier this year and are now named South Western Railway. West Midlands Trains and London Northwestern Railway replaced the London Midland franchise in December.

ORR definitions:  Passenger journeys are calculated based on travel from an origin station to a destination station. A train journey may include one or more changes of train, and one journey is generated for each train used. Significantly Late refers to trains that arrive at their final destination between 30 and 119 minutes late. Delays of 2 hours or more are recorded by ORR as a cancelled service.

2.     For its annual Trains survey Which? surveyed 8,200 UK adults online in October and November 2017 about their train journeys in the last 12 months. The research was conducted by an external research company and passengers were asked which train companies they had used for their last journey, whether their last journeys for leisure and / or commuting purposes were on time or by how much they were delayed. They were also asked whether they were informed about their rights to compensation (where train companies’ own policies dictate passengers should be entitled to compensation). 175 out 2788 commuter journeys were delayed by a qualifying amount – but only 70 said they were informed of their right to compensation. At the same time, 500 out of 10,747 leisure journeys were delayed by a qualifying amount – but only 268 said they were informed.

3.     Testimonies from passengers who have suffered delays, or found it difficult to claim compensation, are available from the press office.

4.    Consumer Rights advises passengers on their train delay and cancellation rights. Newly, it gives passengers advice relevant to their ticket type and compensation scheme of the train company they travel with. It also provides a tool for passengers to make a statutory claim, outside of the train company’s own scheme.

5.      Six of the 27 train operators – Virgin Trains West Coast, c2c, Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Northern – have demonstrated that auto-compensation works to improve the system for customers. Yet even here there is room for improvement as eligibility for auto-compensation varies, risking further confusion or limiting consumer choice in the ticketing market. For example, auto-compensation only applies:

  • On tickets purchased directly from the operator (Virgin Trains West Coast)

  • For season ticket smart card holders only (Thameslink, Great Northern and c2c)

  • Smart card purchases of season tickets, Travelcard season tickets, anytime single and return point-to-point tickets, off-peak single and return point-to-point tickets, and PLUSBUS tickets from travelling in Crawley and Brighton [excluding Newhaven and Seaford stations]  (Govia Thameslink smart card – Southern and Gatwick Express)

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