Train delays – just what is a late train?

(12/11/14) We look at what the train operators count as late running - and just when you might be entitled to compensation

Late Train (21000439)

Most days of the week I need to travel by train. In the past few weeks I seem to have had more delays than usual. In fact, rather than get a train timetabled to arrive just before any appointments I make, I have had to start taking earlier trains – just to ensure that I can make it on time.

The railways publish a regular public performance measure (PPM), and for September to October 90.1% of trains arrived at their destination on time. However, for a train to be late it needs to arrive at its destination five minutes later than scheduled for commuter trains and 10 minutes late for long-distance routes.

These delays are getting worse, too: for the same period in 2013, the rail operators’ performance level was 92.2%. 

Who causes the delays?

Industry statistics reveal that train operating companies cause 39% of delays. Of these, just over 70% were self-inflicted, while just under 30% were delays caused by another train operating company.

What do the announcements/excuses for delays mean?

Tanking the train: this is emptying the toilet tanks on the train and refilling of the water tank.
Passenger action: this covers anything from someone holding a door open, to an abusive member of the public.
Congestion: there are too many passengers at the station or there is overcrowding or trains have been delayed causing a backlog at the station.
Signalling problems: this is a wide range. Could be old equipment failing or the stealing of copper wire - a big problem for the railways. 

St Pancras Railway Station Mmb D2

National Conditions of Carriage

Put simply, this is the agreement for how the railways operate and how you are entitled to compensation if something goes wrong.

If your train is delayed for over an hour, you are entitled to a 20% refund on a single ticket or 10% on a return ticket. If you choose not to travel because the train is delayed or cancelled, then you can apply for a complete refund from the train station or submit your tickets back to the train company. Remember if possible to have some proof of when the train was delayed.

The bad news is that your compensation will be in the form of National Rail vouchers, so you will have to use the trains again! You can use these vouchers with any train company, but they cannot be used for online train ticket purchases. In addition, some companies will change these vouchers for a cheque refund, although they are not obliged to do so.

Check your train company

Different train companies have different rules as the compensations levels I’ve already mentioned are the minimum standards set by Government. Over 50% of train companies will give you compensation if your train is later than 30 minutes behind its scheduled time, so it’s worth checking, and remember you can use to submit your query.

Season tickets

Refunds are based on the length of delays as a proportion of the daily cost of your ticket. There are two ways to get compensation; some firms offer an automatic system for delays, while on others you have to complete the manual process for completion of the returns. 



There are exclusions where the issue is outside of the train companies’ control and these include:

• Vandalism or terrorism
• Suicides or accidents involving trespassers
• Line closures at the request of the police or emergency services
• Exceptionally severe weather conditions
• Industrial action or riots


You are only entitled to a seat on a train if you have made a reservation, otherwise the train company is obliged to get you from A to B and nothing more. In fact, only long-distance routes tend to offer a reservation facility, so if you are a commuter, like me, you may often find yourself standing or sitting on the floor of an overcrowded train.

Got a complaint to make about a delayed train? Raise your issue now via Resolver

Next time: Packaged bank accounts and other financial issues 

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