A leading transport campaigner has accused the Government of blocking reform of the system under which rail firms receive huge amounts of compensation for disruption to services, dwarfing payments to passengers.
As bad weather disrupted rail services, including some firms pre-emptively cancelling trains, the Telegraph reported that between 2011 and 2017 rail companies were paid more than £2bn in compensation by Network Rail for disruption caused by bad weather, engineering work and other disruption, while passengers received just £187m compensation.
Greater Anglia cancelled services on Monday evening
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Passengers will think that this system which rewards companies for delays gives perverse incentives to train operators. People are having to apply and go through complicated, bureaucratic processes to get any form of compensation. It should be simple and automatic.’
He added: ‘The Department for Transport is blocking reform of this system, it doesn't have the guts to do anything about fares reform. Passengers will see this as rail companies profiting from delays.’
Conservative MP Tim Loughton told the Telegraph: ‘It's a complete scandal. They are being paid for failure, they are profiting from delays and cancellations. There is no way that they should be holding onto that money.
‘It is a double whammy for commuters whose journeys are being wrecked to know that the train operator is benefiting financially.’
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: ‘Our new rail strategy will mean train operators working more closely with those responsible for the track and signalling as part of one organisation, tasked with reducing disruption. This aims to move away from the culture of apportioning blame when things go wrong, and towards a steadfast focus on providing the best possible service to passengers.
‘Passengers can now claim compensation for delays of fifteen minutes on some routes, eventually we expect this to be available across the network. We continue to work closely with train companies to better inform passengers of their entitlement to compensation, which rose by almost two thirds to £73m last year.’
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents both train firms and Network Rail, said: ‘These payments are overseen by the rail regulator which says that they keep costs down for taxpayers and farepayers, and they are completely separate from the money customers rightly receive for delays.
‘The payments compensate train operators for lost revenue when fewer people travel due to disruption and they encourage rail companies to work together to improve punctuality. The industry is changing and improving how compensation for delays is paid which is why people received £74m last year, five times more than five years earlier.’