The Office of Rail and Road (“ORR”) has published its annual rail consumer report (the “Report”) detailing key activities undertaken in the period 2020-21 and its main priorities for 2021-22. The Report acknowledges the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the rail industry and the impact on passengers.

The ORR intends to focus on the following four areas over the next year to ensure that the sector continues to make progress on prioritising the needs of passengers:

1. Ticket retailing and passenger rights

  • Passenger information – ORR will continue to monitor the information provided to passengers to enable them to make informed purchasing decisions and understand their rights in relation to refunds.
  • Administration charges for refunds - ORR has begun a review of the refund administration charges under the National Conditions of Travel to ensure that those charges are appropriate and cost reflective. ORR expects to conclude this review and agree next steps with DfT and the wider industry in 2021-22.
  • Service Quality Reports - Train operators have been required to publish an annual Service Quality Report covering punctuality, passenger satisfaction and complaints handling for the first time. ORR will establish a process for the collation of these reports in the coming year.

2. Passenger information

  • Covid-19 Health Protection Regulations – ORR’s role in monitoring compliance with these regulations by international rail operators (particularly in relation to the treatment of health information provided by passengers using the Channel Tunnel) will continue.
  • Smarter Information Smarter Journeys (“SISJ”) programme – ORR’s work on this programme, which aims to make tangible network-wide improvements to the provision of passenger information, will continue next year. One of the key deliverables is the improvement of Network Rail’s disruption management plans, to achieve better estimates of disruption periods for passengers.
  • Review of guidance on the passenger information licence condition - ORR also intends to complete a review of its current guidance for licence holders on meeting the licence condition regarding passenger information.

3. Accessible travel

  • Accessible Travel Policy (“ATP”) - Updated ATP Guidance was published by ORR in September 2020. Train and station operators were then asked to submit an updated ATP to ORR for approval. This approvals process is ongoing. For 2021-22, ORR will monitor compliance with the ATPs and ensure that staff are trained on disability awareness and communication.
  • Joint Code of Practice on Design Standards for Accessible Railway Stations (the “Code”) – ORR continues to analyse infrastructure projects where compliance with the Code is potentially weak. A key aim for 2021-22 is for ORR to make the industry’s obligations with respect to the Code clearer.

4. Complaints handling

  • Complaints Handling Guidance - During 2020-21 ORR conducted research into how satisfied passengers were with the handling of their complaints and commenced a review of the current complaints handling guidance to licence holders. In the coming year, it intends to publish a consultation on proposed changes to this guidance and consider the development of new complaints categories and reporting tools.
  • The Rail Ombudsman - The implementation of the recommendations of the Rail Ombudsman review will continue. Work to date has included ORR taking on the Secretariat of the Rail Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme Council and implementing enhanced reporting.
  • Delay compensation licence condition – ORR will continue to consult on the introduction of a new licence condition on delay compensation which will require adherence to a new code of practice. The proposals focus on improving passenger awareness, simplifying and harmonising claim processes, monitoring, and continual improvement.

The Report summarises the important work that ORR has planned to ensure that the rail sector continues to make progress on prioritising the needs of passengers. As highlighted by the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, progress in this area is essential to ensure that passengers are attracted back to travel by rail as the UK recovers from the pandemic.