Passenger using a mobile phone.

UK: The Office of Rail & Road has released a review into the impact on passengers from the emergency withdrawal of all Class 80x Hitachi trains and the way the crisis was subsequently handled by operators Great Western Railway, LNER, TransPennine Express and Hull Trains.

The investigation looked at the way information was provided, how ticketing and refunds were supported by operators and third party retailers, and what lessons can be learned.

ORR accepts that the situation developed rapidly, but reflects ‘in these circumstances, it is important that passengers are given the best information available about train services, and where they are advised not to travel or are unable to do so, they can access the correct information about their rights to a refund from the ticket retailer.’

Operators initially used ‘a problem under investigation’ as the reason for disruption and were less clear about the impact. Many trains were cancelled on the morning of May 8, but it was not made clear whether passengers could still travel that afternoon or whether operators had just not yet cancelled those trains.

The messaging was later changed to ‘more trains than usual needing repairs at the same time’ which was more informative. Although a ‘do not travel’ message was used widely, not all trains were cancelled. This ‘painted a confusing picture when journey planners did not differentiate between those cancelled, running or just not confirmed’.

ORR accepts that ‘the evolving nature of the incident meant that information for passengers was understandably not perfect at the start’, but ‘with some minor exceptions’, it did improve. The regulator notes that there were discrepancies across different websites, and recommends that a better process is developed for cross-checking to ensure that the information is correct and consistent.

It calls for a ‘consistent use’ of red banners by operators and National Rail Enquiries, and suggests that third party retailers should also consider adding a disruption banner messaging to their home page with a link to refund information.

ORR notes that the Automated Service Indicator needs improving, as it was showing a ‘good’ service based on the revised timetable rather than the timetable that users would be expecting.

Any changes to on-board services also need to be made clear, and information about refunds and any administration fees needs to be accurate.

ORR says that industry rules around ‘do not travel’ advice need reviewing, commenting ‘the next industry review of the National Rail Conditions of Travel should give careful consideration to including the entitlement to a full fee-free refund when passengers follow advice not to travel so that this is clear and consistent for passengers.’

ORR wrote to the four train operators on May 11, and to third-party retailers on May 12, to remind them of their obligations around refunds. It said information should be provided in a way that is ‘clear, unambiguous and timely.’

ORR rules that once a do not travel instruction had been issued, the £10 administration fee for changing or refunding ticket bookings should not be applied, even if a particular train ran.

Information about refunds on third-party retailer websites was generally thought to be not prominent enough and hard to navigate, while advice regarding refunds on National Rail Enquiries website was only available via the information link covering compensation for delays. ‘It is important that the two subjects are not conflated and to reduce passenger confusion about their entitlements in the different circumstances we would expect National Rail Enquiries to consider providing specific links to refund information in future’, ORR said.

ORR commended operators for utilising Twitter effectively to communicate key messages about the disruption but added that they should also consider using Twitter to communicate refund rights.

Finally ORR says that passengers advised to use other operators’ services need to have information if those services are disrupted, and it suggests displaying maps may have been helpful to passengers. It also notes that no information about accessibility was provided when road transport was deployed.