Exclusive: Rail bosses' £3.8m war chest from unspent fund to compensate passengers in North after timetable chaos

Transport bosses are to hand out £3.5m in free tickets and discounted fares to compensate rail passengers across the North who suffered during last year’s timetable chaos, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

By Rob Parsons
Saturday, 9th March 2019, 6:25 am
Leeds station was among those to see widespread delays last summer
Leeds station was among those to see widespread delays last summer

Six million pounds of central government funds were allocated to compensate regular northern commuters caught up in the widespread delays and disruption, but nearly two-thirds - £3.8m - remains to be spent because uptake was lower than anticipated.

Passengers across the North suffered weeks of delayed or cancelled trains after the May timetable change, prompting The Yorkshire Post and other northern newspapers to issue an unprecedented call to action in a day of joint front page editorials.

More than a million hours were lost and the economic impact was estimated at a minimum of £38m.

Henri Murison of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said the scheme may be a missed opportunity.

A leaked document seen by this newspaper sets out how Rail North, the public body which manages the North’s two biggest rail operators, now plans to hand out £1m each in ticket giveaways for customers of Northern and TransPennine Express.

Another £1m will be allocated to offer discounted travel to parts of the North hardest hit by the disruption and a further £500,000 to encourage season ticket holders to move to smart ticketing with sweeteners of up to £50 per person.

Officials hope the special compensation schemes, which have yet to be made public, will encourage rail passengers to return to the parts of the North dependent on their tourist or leisure industries.

Barry White, Chief Executive of Transport for the North, said: “This further phase of compensation recognises the impact on passengers and businesses caused by the disruption experienced by passengers and is designed to help those areas hardest hit by last year’s events and encourage people back onto trains.

“Our hope is it will bring direct benefits to a wide range of people and businesses across the North through a rolling programme of initiatives.”

Labour MP Paula Sherriff, representing Dewsbury, welcomed the compensation and said she hoped the schemes would “go some way to get people back using our railways”.

But she criticised the continuing poor performance of rail services and called for “proper accountability”, adding: “ Local people overwhelmingly want us to take back control of our railways.”

And Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison said the scheme represented a missed opportunity to extend rail discounts for 16 to 18-year-olds to make it easier for young apprentices in the North to get to work.

Millions unspent in compensation fund

Nearly four million pounds was left unspent from a government fund to compensate northern rail passengers for last year’s timetable chaos because uptake of the scheme by regular passengers was “far lower than anticipated”.

A leaked document seen by The Yorkshire Post reveals the discussions by northern transport leaders over how best to make amends to rail passengers and get them back on trains after the disastrous events of summer 2018.

The failure to complete a vital piece of infrastructure work in the North West on time meant the May timetable in the North was re-drawn at short notice, resulting in delays and cancellations across the board due to a lack of properly trained drivers.

As passengers struggled to get to work on time or home to their families amid mounting anger at the rail industry, a compensation scheme for season ticket holders and passengers travelling three or more days per week was unveiled by the Government.

The document seen by The Yorkshire Post says £6m was allocated by the Department for Transport for compensation, but while large numbers of season ticket holders took up the offer, for other passengers the uptake was “far lower than anticipated”, meaning £3.8m of the funding remains to be spent.

As well as a desire to compensate customers, the document produced by Rail North, which manages operators Northern and TransPennine Express, says the scheme aims to stimulate travel to leisure and tourists markets that suffered last year.

Officials also want to promote a return to rail travel due to the damage done to the reputation of rail travel. For Northern, £1m in leisure tickets are to be given away through an online offer, with around 50 per cent in the areas with the worst disruption and the remainder spread around the region.

Meanwhile for fellow Yorkshire operator TransPennine Express, £1m in e-vouchers will be given away, entitling the recipient to £25 off leisure or season tickets, in an offer focused on the Easter and Spring period.

The firm is using its customer database to identify passengers who travelled during periods of disruption, so that they are first in line to get the vouchers.

A key part of the scheme, according to the leaked document, is a series of targeted measures focused on those areas hit hardest by the disruption.

Precise details are still being worked out but could include offers for short-distance weekend leisure trips or for specific markets including half-price weekend tickets on the Lakes Line.

And a separate element will see £500,000 used to encourage season ticket holders to migrate to smartcards, an aim in-keeping with Transport for the North’s ambition to create an integrated transport system across the region. This is expected to result in a value of between £25 and £50 per season ticket holder.

An allowance of £300,000 has been made for set-up and promotion.

Last summer, a report by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership set out how more than a million hours have been lost by railway users in the North as a result of the timetable chaos.

Its Director Henri Murison welcomed the compensation schemes but questioned whether an opportunity had been missed to extend proposed rail discounts for 16 to 18-year-olds to be available for the North’s apprentices at peak times.

He said: “Many of those starting in the world of work as apprentices are having to pay the same to travel at peak times as those who in senior leaderships roles, and many of those same leaders I know would rather this financial help did long-term good for the Northern Powerhouse after the damage of the summer of rail chaos.”

The new scheme received a mixed reaction from Yorkshire MPs whose constituencies have been blighted by the poor performance of local rail services.

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake, a Tory, said: “It’s clearly good news that compensation is being offered to those who have suffered...however, compensation should have been extended directly to TransPennine customers who lost out through delays on cancellations east of the Pennines, rather than being focused on the North-West.”