Coronavirus refunds – what’s happening for rail passengers

23 March 2020

Earlier today the Department for Transport announced emergency measures to support the rail industry and passengers through coronavirus. It includes details of a temporary suspension of franchise contracts. A huge change and a lot of public money, but for now the most important thing is that these changes should keep key workers moving and make sure train companies are there to get things going again in due course.

Details of the timetable changes are still being worked through in places, but it’s clear that services are going to be substantially cut across the network. This is understandable as most passengers are asked to stay at home, but it’s vital those who still need to travel can do so safely and avoid crowding that makes social distancing impossible. Might further measures be necessary to ensure those making essential trips can do so safely? Information must also be clear and train companies will need to listen and make changes where they can if these emergency plans create difficulties for key workers.

Today’s announcement included a welcome commitment to refund passengers who hold Advance tickets bought before 23 March which they no longer need. Transport Focus pushed for this – it’s vitally important passengers who followed the advice not to travel are not left out of pocket. The exceptional circumstances imposed by coronavirus – on almost all aspects of our lives – meant the usual terms and conditions cannot stand. Passengers will still have questions about how this is going to work in practice.

On Advance tickets it’s welcome that the Government has made it possible to get refunds on Advance tickets from today. This brings them in line with Anytime and Off-Peak tickets and brings an end to the rigmarole of passengers being advised to change their travel date when they had no way of knowing when travel would be possible again.

There are still questions about season ticket refunds. Although today’s announcement looked like a change, it turns out that nothing has changed – existing terms and conditions for season ticket refunds continue to apply. We’ll continue to discuss the need for pro-rata refunds with Government and train companies; it isn’t the passenger’s fault that they won’t be using the ticket for a full 12 months. And there’s also the question of backdating if you’ve not been travelling but haven’t yet handed in your season ticket. How about backdating until Tuesday 17 March, the first day of official work from home advice, for passengers who have not been travelling?

The standard advice is to return tickets to the point of purchase; but what if this is a ticket office, as is so often the case for season ticket purchases? Clearly it would not be safe for every season ticket holder to set out to the station today just to claim a refund. Can train companies and retailers please think about how this can best be done during social distancing?

In these extreme circumstances where households may need to make money go further it is important that the railway is seen to do the right thing by its customers.

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