Train companies all have different sets of rules, so it can be more than a little confusing to work out what you should get if your train has been delayed or cancelled.
It's also entirely possible to get completely different treatment for very similar experiences, but National Rail has underlying rules for train travel. Find out more below.
The answer is unfortunately true. Our guide explains why.
National Rail Conditions of Carriage
The National Rail Conditions of Carriage are the underlying rules for train travel in Britain. These conditions set out the amount of compensation you're entitled to.
The minimum compensation for a delay is 20% of your single ticket (10% of a return, unless you were delayed on both legs) if you're more than one hour late.
These conditions are significantly stingier than any of the train companies' own rules on compensation for delay.
The companies' compensation levels are set out in their franchise agreements with the government, and the levels are different for every company.
As a general rule, around half of the companies will refund 50% of your ticket for a delay of 30 minutes or more.
- The minimum compensation for a delay is 20% of your single ticket (10% of a return, unless you were delayed on both legs), if you're more than an hour late
- National Rail Conditions of Carriage state that compensation will be in National Rail vouchers
- In the case of bad weather, Network Rail and the train companies have to agree that the weather is exceptionally severe
National Rail compensation
Having a bad experience with train travel is likely to make you less keen on going back for more. But the National Rail Conditions of Carriage state that compensation will be in National Rail vouchers.
The exception with some train companies is if your compensation is above a certain level (typically £30-£40).
Vouchers may not be to everyone's liking but there are pros and cons:
The good news The rail vouchers can be used with any train company, not just the one you travelled with and they last for a year from date of issue.
The bad news You can't use them if you're booking rail travel online.
It is worth being persistent with what you want. If you complain about receiving vouchers and ask for a refund instead (best of all, state this specifically when you put in your claim), some train companies may oblige.
Be explicit about what you want, and why train vouchers don't cut it, and you may be able to get your money back.
Season tickets and compensation
Refunds for season ticket holders tend to be calculated using the proportional daily cost of the price of your annual ticket.
What you get depends on the route and price of our ticket, but the refund often works out at less than someone travelling with a recently purchased ticket.
Exceptions to compensation rules
Compensation only applies if delays, cancellations or poor service happened for reasons outside a train company's control, for example:
- Acts or threats of vandalism or terrorism
- Suicides or accidents involving trespassers
- Gas leaks or fires in lineside buildings not caused by a train company
- Line closures at the request of the police or emergency services
- Exceptionally severe weather conditions
- Industrial action
- Riots or civil commotion
- Fire, mechanical or electrical failure or a defect (except where caused by a train company or its trains’ defects)
Bad weather and compensation
In the case of bad weather, Network Rail and the train companies have to agree that the weather is exceptionally severe.
If other modes of transport are badly affected by the weather, it's likely the weather will be deemed ‘exceptionally severe.’
If it is, the theory is that train companies don't have to compensate you.
But, the conditions also say that companies ‘will consider additional claims in exceptional circumstances'. So, it could well be worth claiming for compensation anyway.
The weather rules bring about the paradox that you could be much better off not getting on the heavily delayed train at, for example, snowy times – as you would then be entitled to a refund rather than no compensation.
This is because if the train you were going to take is cancelled or delayed – or your reservation was not going to be honoured – and you decide not to travel, you're entitled to a refund.
Train companies duty of care
If circumstances within the control of a train company leave you stranded, any train company that can help should.
They should get you to your destination or give you overnight accommodation.
Transport for London (TFL) offers refunds if a passenger's journey is delayed for more than 15 minutes.
For tube passengers, this amounts to the fare for the single journey you were making, whether you have a season ticket or have purchased a single fare.
London Overground users have to be delayed by more than 30 minutes.
You must claim within 14 days to be eligible for a refund.