An editorial piece from The Independent (UK) written by Oliver Wright.
The great train robbery? How rail firms make millions from running late.
Franchises claim huge sums from Network Rail for delays – so where does all the cash go?
Private rail companies are raking in more than £100m a year in compensation for late trains that they are not passing on to affected customers.
Under Britain's complicated rail franchise system, private train operators are able to claim compensation from the state-owned track operator Network Rail for problems on the line which cause disruption to services.
But just a fraction of this money is being passed on to customers, research has revealed for the first time.
In the last year train operators received £172m from Network Rail for delays, but figures from eight of the private rail franchisees showed they only passed on £10m to passengers.
Overall there are 23 rail operating companies – suggesting that the total shortfall in customer compensation is likely to be around £150m.
The rail operating firm that passed on the most compensation to customers is the publicly owned East Coast line running from London to Scotland which paid out £6.6m. By comparison the privately run CrossCountry service, which also runs long distance trains, paid out just £1m.
On average the private firms paid out just £400,000 to customers for delays last year. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which unearthed the figures using the Freedom of Information act, said it had now written to the Transport Select Committee calling on it to mount an inquiry into what it described as "daylight robbery" of taxpayers and passengers. The Department of Transport said it would be contracting rail companies to ensure that they were not "deliberately exploiting" passengers and the taxpayer.
Under the current system train operating companies can claim compensation from Network Rail if their services are delayed by more than five minutes because of problems affecting the line. However, customers have to be delayed more than half an hour before being eligible for any compensation at all. In order to get a full refund the train has to be over two hours late.
Network Rail admitted that the current system "was not perfect", but said the status quo was set at the time of privatisation and could only be changed by the Government.