When things go wrong

Changing your mind
Ticket machine not working
Ticket lost stolen or damaged
Reserved seat not available
Missed connection
Cancelled or missed connection with last train
Alternative routes in the event of delay
Delay repay
Penalty fares
Making a complaint

Changing your mind

If you have bought a ticket in advance and then change your mind about making the journey that day, then you can get a refund of the ticket price less a £5 administration fee.  If you bought online, then you have to get the refund from that online retailer – their website will explain how to do this.  If you bought at a station ticket office, then any station ticket office will be able to give you a refund.   

If your train is delayed or cancelled and you decide not to travel, you can get a full refund (even on advance tickets) from the operator or retailer who sold you the ticket, with no admin fee.         

If you need to make the same journey but at a different time, then the situation depends on the type of ticket:
  • If advance, you will need to get a refund of your ticket (less the £10 admin fee) and buy a new ticket at whatever price is available. If you are travelling with CrossCountry and bought the ticket on their website, CrossCountry will waive the £10 fee provided you get the refund and buy the new ticket in one transaction at least 24 hours before your original train was due to depart.
  • If off-peak and you now need to travel during the peak period, some operators will sell you an upgrade for the price difference, without any admin charge – check at the ticket office.  Otherwise you will need to get a refund of your ticket (less the £10 admin fee) and buy a new ticket – check whether an advance ticket is available
  • If anytime and you now need only to travel off-peak, check whether changing to an off-peak ticket will save more than the £10 admin fee – otherwise use the anytime ticket
If you want to make the return journey on a different day, then:
  • If you have a day return, the some operators will sell you an upgrade at the ticket office for the price difference, without any admin charge, provided that the ticket is valid (ie you can’t upgrade on the following day).  Otherwise, you will have to buy a new single ticket
  •  if you have a period return, check whether the new return date is still within the period of validity. If not, you will have to buy a new single ticket.
Reservations are only necessary with an advance ticket.  With off-peak tickets you can travel on any train within the time restrictions, and with anytime tickets you can travel on any train - not just the train for which you have a reservation.

If you have been given the wrong ticket, ie it is not for the journey, route or time that you asked for, then you are entitled to a replacement without paying any administration fee. If you have purchased a ticket in advance but are unable to or decide not to travel because trains are delayed/cancelled (by more than the threshold for Delay Repay payments) then you are entitled to a full refund without the admin fee.

Ticket machine not working

If you are collecting tickets ordered online, they can also be collected at the ticket office (if it is manned) or at a machine (that issues prepaid tickets) at any other station.

You are required to hold a ticket for the journey you are making.  If the station is unmanned and the ticket machine is not working (or will not accept cash), you should be able to board the train and purchase the ticket from the conductor or guard.  Since you are technically breaking the railway byelaws, you should make every effort to contact the conductor or guard as quickly as possible.  If you have a camera, take a photo of the message on the screen of the machine.   If you have ordered the ticket online, you should show the proof of purchase, with the reference number, to the conductor or guard and then obtain the ticket from a ticket machine or ticket office at the first opportunity.  In the unlikely event that the conductor, guard or revenue protection officer refuses to accept your explanation and charges you for an additional ticket or gives you an unpaid fare notice or a penalty fare notice, you should appeal (see Penalty Fares below).

If the station is unmanned and the ticket machine does not offer the ticket that you want you should buy a the minimum ticket which gives you the right to travel, then contact the conductor or guard on the train to buy the correct ticket and trade-in the one you bought.

LNER ticket machines at Kings Cross (and other LNER stations) may refuse to sell you an anytime or offpeak ticket for your train, claiming that it is 'not available' - which is impossible for a walk-up ticket. Buy it at the travel centre (aka ticket office) or pop across to St Pancras and buy it from an East Midlands, southeastern, or Thameslink TVM.

If you are just lazy and try to buy a ticket on the train rather than going to the booking office or ticket machine, you may be sold an expensive anytime ticket rather than off-peak, may not be able to use a railcard, or may be charged a penalty fare.

Ticket lost stolen or damaged

It is your responsibility to keep your ticket safe.  If it is stolen or you lose it, then the train operator does not have to let you travel – you will have to buy another ticket.  If the ticket is damaged a ticket office will replace it provided you are genuine – a £10 administration fee may be charged. 

If you lose a Smartcard you should be able to get a replacement provided that you had registered it.

Reserved seat not available

If the seat you have reserved is occupied by another passenger who refuses to move, then call the conductor or guard for help.  If you cannot find the conductor or guard (possibly because the train is so crowded that you cannot move through it) and there are no other seats you have grounds to complain to the customer services department of the train operator and ask for compensation.  Details of how to complain will be on the train operator’s website.  The same applies if the train is short-formed and the coach containing your reserved seat is missing.

Incidentally note that on Cross-Country Trains, the seat in which you are travelling can be reserved from underneath you if you do not have a reservation and someone buys a ticket and reserves a seat from a station part-way along the train’s journey.

Missed connection

Advance tickets are valid only for a specific train.  However if you miss the train because the connecting train on which you started your journey was late, then the train operator will accept your ticket on the next available train.  The operator should cover you even if you are using split tickets, provided that you allowed the minimum connection time at the split point and that you travel on a train run by the same operator, not just the next train. Note that if the delayed first leg of your journey was by tube, you are covered if the tube and rail journey are on one ticket, but not if they are separate tickets.

If you travel on the wrong train with an advance ticket for any other reason you are liable to pay a penalty fare (see penalty fares below) or the undiscounted single fare to a station served by the train in which you are travelling.

Cancelled or missed connection with last train

If you have a valid ticket but the last train of the night is cancelled, or you miss it because you are on a connecting train which is delayed, the train operator has a responsibility to get you home.  Ask whoever is on duty at the station (use the help point or phone the train operator if the station is unmanned), or the conductor/guard of your delayed connecting train, to arrange alternative transport, ie a taxi, to get you home.  If there are no staff at all, keep receipts and record with precise times what happened, take photos of the customer information screen if you have a camera, then complain to the operator of the delayed or cancelled train seeking compensation (see ‘Making a complaint’ below). 

Alternative routes in the event of delay

If trains are delayed, the operator will try to give information about which trains are running and maybe how long the delay will be – although information on the length of delay tends to be unreliable. But because the railway forms a network, in the event of a delay there will often be an alternative route – which the operator may not think to announce.  For example if the West Coast Main Line between London and Birmingham is blocked, there is the alternative Chiltern route from Marylebone.   It may take longer than your normal route, but be quicker than waiting for the delay on your normal route to be resolved.  If your ticket is marked ‘Any Permitted Route’ then it may well be valid by the alternative route.  If the delay is sufficiently major, the train operator will declare ‘CSL2 conditions' (Customer Service Level 2); this indicates a 'catastrophic event’ which means that all the other operators have to help, so that any restrictions on your ticket no longer apply  and you can travel by any reasonable route.  Ask staff on duty what alternatives are available and whether other companies are accepting tickets.

Delay repay

If your journey is delayed and you are not a season ticket holder, you are entitled to claim compensation from the operator of the train that delayed you – unless the operator has declared a ‘void day’, when no effective service could be run because of a catastrophic event. Also, some operators do not pay compensation for delays caused by an event outside rail industry control, eg a suicide.  Note that the delay will be assessed against the 'timetable for the day', ie as published by the operator at 2200 the day before.

Get your ticket endorsed by the conductor/guard/train manager to confirm the train you were travelling on.  Most operators allow you to claim online (within 28 days) and send a scan of the tickets, using the link for the appropriate operator below. If not, request a delay repay form from the train conductor/guard/train manager, staffed station, or by post from the operator’s customer services department, or Complete the form, giving scheduled and actual date and departure/arrival times of the trains which caused the delay, and send it within 28 days of the expiry of the ticket.  If you bought the ticket at a station, you can fill in the form and hand it in there, without having to worry about which operator to send it to. Forms sent by post should be accompanied by the original tickets (not copies – but keep a copy yourself).  You now have the right to receive compensation in the form of a cheque or credit card refund.

DR15: 25% of one-way fare paid for delay of 15 minutes or over, 50% for 30 minutes or over, 100% for one hour or over:
DR15 as above plus automated compensation for smartcards or advance tickets bought on operator's own website:
DR30: 50% of one-way fare paid for delay of 30 minutes or over, 100% for one hour or over:
Other operators:
  • Elizabeth line - 100% of one-way fare paid for delay of 30 minutes or over
  • Grand Central - 25% of one-way fare paid for delay of one hour or over
  • Heathrow Express -100% of one-way fare paid for delay of 15 minutes or over;  request Customer Refund card from staff
  • London Overground - 100% of one-way fare paid for delay of 30 minutes or over
  • London Underground and DLR - 100% of one-way fare paid for delay of 15 minutes or over
  • Merseyrail -100% of one-way fare paid for delay of 30 minutes or over; speak to staff at station
Note that if your journey was with multiple operators, the compensation calculation above is based on the fare for the whole journey, not just the portion with the operator that you are claiming from. Details of each operator’s compensation policy are given in the Passenger’s Charter or Delay Repay document available from their website or ticket offices (note that the Passenger Charter used by operators of the older franchises is less generous than the Delay Repay scheme, and may not cover delays which are attributable to Network Rail). The Consumer Rights Act now entitles passengers to seek compensation up to the full cost of their ticket if the service they have paid for is not delivered with reasonable care and skill. This means that the operator can no longer cap the amount of compensation they offer customers at less than the full ticket price if they are at fault.  From 11 March 2018, claims may also be made for consequential loss. Some operators may provide free refreshments in the event of a delay. Depending on the train operator, season ticket holders may claim as above, or on renewal up to a pro-rata amount of the season ticket price, depending on the period of the season (1/464th of the annual season price for a single journey and maximum delay). If you are using split tickets, the ATOC Retail Manual specifies that the entire journey is covered.

Operators are beginning to give delay compensation automatically - for example c2c to users of its c2c Smartcard, Thameslink and Great Northern to users of their Key smartcard, and both Northern and Virgin to holders of advance tickets bought through their own website or app.

View or download Railfuture presentation giving more detail on Delay Repay.

Penalty fares

Some train operators run a penalty fare scheme. You may be given a penalty fare notice if you travel without a ticket, or with a ticket which is not valid for the journey. The penalty is the applicable single fare from the station where the passenger got on the train to the next station at which the train stops, plus a surcharge of £100, reduced to £50 if paid within 21 days.  You will also have to pay the fare for the rest of your journey beyond the next stop.  This is not a fine or a criminal conviction.  It operates on a ‘guilty until proved innocent’ basis.

If you feel that the penalty fare is not warranted or is unfair, you have 21 days to appeal, either in writing to the address on the penalty fare notice, or online. The appeals process now gives greater consideration to circumstances of how and why the penalty was issued to ensure people are not unfairly penalised, and is independent of the rail companies. Once you appeal, the 21-day clock on the penalty fare stops until the outcome of your appeal is resolved.

The appeal service considers appeals on two grounds – inappropriate use of discretion by the member of staff charging the penalty fares and a failure by the train operators to comply with the requirements of the Penalty Fares Guidelines, the Penalty Fares Regulations or the provisions of the train operator’s own penalty fares schemes (published on the train operator’s website). 

Alternatively, if you could not present a valid ticket, you may be issued with an Unpaid Fares Notice.  This is effectively a bill for the ticket that you haven’t bought and there is no extra penalty, although it will be for the full fare without any discounts that you might otherwise have been entitled to.  The notice will include the process by which you can appeal.

Making a complaint

If you have a complaint, in the first instance you should contact the Customer Services department of the train operator using their complaints process; details will be available on their website or from their stations.   If the train operator does not resolve the problem to your satisfaction, then you can appeal to a watchdog:
The National Rail Conditions of Carriage and the Passenger’s charter for the appropriate train operator cover your rights and responsibilities as a traveller.

The Which consumer rights organisation gives more advice on what you can claim for and how. You can also try the Resolver online service which can help you to raise and progress your complaint - on many other services as well as train journeys.

View or download a list of national and regional passenger bodies (614kb PDF. Aug 2018)

If you feel that your local rail service needs to be improved you can also join your local Rail User Group – or Railfuture.

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