PASSENGERS on Virgin Trains West Coast from today will be the first in Britain to be eligible for automatic compensation for train delays, without having to claim refunds.
Ministers and rail watchdogs called for other train operators to follow Virgin’s example.
Travellers will have their accounts credited within three days of being held up, in a move that will cost Virgin nearly £3 million a year.
Around nine in ten delayed passengers don’t currently bother claiming, research by watchdog Transport Focus has found.
The automatic “Delay Repay” system is for Virgin’s trains on the West Coast Main Line, including Edinburgh and Glasgow to Birmingham and London.
It will cover passengers who book tickets for specific trains online through Virgin, which is used for 3.5 million trips a year. Those who buy from other websites or ticket offices will still have to submit claims.
Passengers delayed between 30 minutes and one hour are refunded half the cost of their ticket for that part of the journey, and the full cost of it for hold-ups between one and two hours.
Those delayed more than two hours are refunded the complete cost of their tickets.
Virgin said the move was expected to nearly quadruple the refunds it paid, from £1m to £3.8m a year. However, it said it could not immediately introduce the system on its East Coast services too as they were a separate franchise. Such a move would be illegal under competition law since the two franchises technically operate some rival services, such as between Edinburgh and London.
UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Our plan is to make sure passengers across the country benefit from schemes like this. We are encouraging other operators to roll out similar schemes.”
Mike Hewitson, head of policy for Transport Focus, said: “Our research has found many passengers do not claim the compensation they are entitled to, so we welcome Virgin Trains’ plan to introduce this system.
“This is a great step forward and we would like to see this system introduced across all operators and ticket types.”
A ScotRail spokeswoman said: “We have no plans to change our Delay Repay scheme at the moment, but we are looking into how we can streamline the claims process to make it as easy as possible for our customers.”
Iain Baxter, marketing and revenue director of the Caledonian Sleeper, which runs on the West Coast Main Line, said: “We will review the technology to see whether this should be considered in the future.”