New figures reveal rail companies' £45m payout to delayed passengers

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Rail companies paid out £45 million in compensation to delayed passengers in England and Wales during the past year while receiving £105 million from Network Rail for unplanned disruption, new figures show.

Press Association analysis of Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail data revealed that the largest difference between the figures for one company was Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), the parent company of embattled operator Southern.

GTR paid compensation claims worth a total of £2 million during 2015/16, while Network Rail's bill in relation to the lines in south-east England was £22 million.

Passengers on Southern services have suffered months of disruption caused by strikes over changes to the role of conductors and high levels of staff sickness.

Network Rail makes payments to train companies for passenger delays which are attributed to it.

This includes reasons such as infrastructure faults, vandalism and bad weather.

The organisation says the money compensates train companies for the ''long-term impact of disruption'' as it is thought delayed passengers will be less likely to travel by train in the future, which affects revenue from fares.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing train operators, described NR's payments as "entirely separate" from those made to passengers.

GTR said that in its case the Network Rail payments were passed on to the DfT.

It added that the company paid around 50% more compensation to passengers compared with the previous year once a change in the way the data was presented was taken into account.

The level of compensation received by passengers in England and Wales in 2015/16 represented a 73% increase on the £26 million paid out during the previous year.

A survey of over 7,000 passengers by independent watchdog Transport Focus found that the proportion of those claiming compensation had almost trebled over the past three years - up from 12% in 2013 to 35% this year.

Rail minister Paul Maynard said: "We are determined to ensure passengers are confident in the service and value they will get if they choose to travel by rail.

"Of course, we must constantly strive to improve punctuality but if things go wrong, passengers need to know that they will be compensated fairly.

"We have been working with partners in the rail industry to ensure passengers are aware of their right to recompense for disruption and, at the same time, we are making the claim process simpler and swifter so that it is easier and more attractive to apply."

In December last year consumer group Which? lodged a "super complaint" claiming that the system for obtaining compensation for delayed journeys was too complicated.

Rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) made a number of recommendations to the industry, such as raising awareness of what compensation was available and making claim forms easier to understand.

The RDG said passengers were getting a "better deal" in terms of compensation, such as improved online claiming and the option to receive payouts in cash.

The ORR's deputy director for consumers, Stephanie Tobyn, said: "While we're pleased to see an increase in those claiming compensation, we expect train companies to continue their progress to enable the other two-thirds of eligible passengers to get the compensation to which they're entitled.

"In particular, more needs to be done to raise passengers' awareness of their rights to delay compensation, the information they receive about it needs to be better and the claims processes simpler."