A FREE RIDE HOME

Or why a missed train connection in the UK may entitle you to a taxi

Blog - York Station

Not long ago I was returning from London to York after a busy day in the metropolis keeping book and screenplay projects on the boil – writing is very much like cooking, with pots on the creative stove all in need of attention at the same time – when I made a useful discovery about the legal liabilities of our country’s railway network.

The train I had caught was due in York at 8.28 p.m. leaving me ten minutes to get the 8.38 p.m. connection to Malton, a market town fifteen miles to the east of York, where my car had been parked since a very misty 8 a.m that morning. Ten minutes out of York, with the train on time, we began to break and grind to a halt. An announcement from the train supervisor (guards have long since disappeared) regretted that due to ‘a track side issue’ we would be a few minutes late arriving. ‘A few minutes,’ I thought, ‘does that mean what it should mean – not long? Or will we be stuck here for the next hour?’ To my relief, we began to move again, and I relaxed. But un-hatched chickens should not be counted and the train not only failed to pick up speed but continued to creep past the ‘track side issue’ at the speed of a broody hen crossing the road with no answer to the question ‘Why?’ I glared at my mobile phone (not smart, but smart enough to tell the time) and saw the minutes tick by: 8.25, 8.30, 8.32.

The chances of making my connection were diminishing and the sense of annoyance ignited by the train supervisor’s formulaic announcement began to metamorphose into righteous anger. When, finally, we pulled into the station at 8.37 p.m., I grabbed my ageing, overweight laptop, jumped off the train, ran up the steps of a footbridge and down on to platform five just in time to see the Malton train disappear: a cliché scene of pathos or farce in the movies, a nightmare in real life, when, as a quick glance at the display board told me, the next train was not due until 10.20 p.m.

Fuelled by an anger, now not only righteous but on the verge of turning psychotic, and rehearsing killer arguments about the iniquity of a railway privatisation programme that meant one company could no longer wait for another company’s delayed train, I remounted the footbridge and strode across to the station concourse determined to vent my wrath on the first uniformed person I met. By chance this hapless human being, selected by fate to hear me out, happened to be wearing the uniform of East Coast, the company whose train had been delayed and arrived too late.

His first reaction to my furious but icily coherent fume on the particular and general issues at stake was, I sensed, a holding operation.

“There’s another train,” he said, glancing at the display board as I had done. “You’ll not be stuck.”

Despite his Yorkshire brogue and corporately-inculcated sense of calm, I was neither soothed nor returned to that state of resigned sanity which makes Anglo-Saxons (and some Celts) so good at grinning and bearing it, or, more often, at grumbling, mumbling and moving off to vent frustration on the spouse via a mobile phone.

“In an hour and half, yes,” I snapped in a crisp, military manner, narrowly avoiding use of an obscene incendiary. “And what about my mother waiting at Malton station to meet me – what will she do?”

My mother died sixteen years ago, and introducing a lie into my already strong case was unnecessary, but the writer in me had entered the fray and fiction would now fight side by side with fact.

“You could call her,” the East Coast official suggested.

A weak response easily shot down.

“She has no mobile phone and why would a call help? She’d still have to wait for an hour and a half.”

The official nodded and changed his approach. By resisting his initial attempts at pacification, I had, it seemed, passed some test, or crossed some Rubicon, and would now be treated as a serious complainant who could not be fobbed off with the company’s first line of defence: ‘You’ll not be stuck.’

“Follow me, love,” he said, adding the Yorkshire term of endearment in a non-corporate, man to man manner. “I’ll get you sorted.”

We crossed the concourse and entered an unmarked corner office squeezed between Starbucks and Hertz. A large woman in a darker, less well-kept uniform than that of the man stood behind a desk, monitoring a series of screens and nursing a coffee container. She glanced up and caught my eye.

“Missed connection?” she asked, switching her gaze to the East Coast man and taking a sip of Latte.

”Aye,” said the man, “Late 8.28 from London, onward journey to Malton. He’ll be wanting a taxi.”

 The woman checked her screens again, picked up a phone and muttered something into it. The man filled in a form and handed it to me.

“Sign here, please, sir.”

Promoted from ‘love’ to ‘sir’, but I was not yet ready to be pacified and drop my protest.

“A taxi? And who will pay for that?”

“It’ll be taken care of,” said the woman without looking up.

“I don’t want to end up filling in a lot of claim forms,” I persisted, keen to continue the fight.

“No forms, except one you’ve signed,” said the man ushering me from the office. “And I’ve filled in that. Now if you go out to taxi rank you’ll see a grey unmarked, car in the far lane. That’s yours.”

Before I could offer thanks, the man had disappeared leaving the concourse deserted apart from two passengers, perhaps off the same train as me, heading to the bar to grin and bear it or grumble and mumble into their mobile phones. There was no one else in uniform to be seen (the information desk had closed, the newsagent was shuttered), and it occurred to me that if I had not bumped into my East Coast man, I too would have been left with no option but to grin and bear it, or bear the considerable cost of a taxi to Malton myself.  As it was, by chance, and because of my refusal to be fobbed off, I had stumbled on a little known regulation (explained to me in more detail by the taxi driver in the unmarked taxi) that requires the UK railway network to facilitate the completion of a passenger’s journey if that passenger has been on an officially delayed train and, as a consequence, will have to wait longer than one hour for an ongoing connection.

“I’ve taken people to London, Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester,” said the driver, “even Penzance once. As long as you fill conditions and have a ticket to show where you were meant to end up, you get a ride at the taxpayer’s expense – or maybe it’s railway companies that pay, I’m not sure on that. But either way there’s legislation from the 70s – ‘Completion of Journey Act’ or something like that – that means people like me are kept busy and remunerated year in year out.”

I shook my head in disbelief.

“First I’ve heard of it,” I said, thinking of all my missed connections over the years and imagining the chaos that might ensue if the British public – both passive and active wings – got wind of this freebie.

“Aye,” said the driver, as we pulled onto the A64 and sped off to Malton and my fictional mother. “They don’t shout about it from tree-tops,  just apply it when customer puts his foot down.”

So, if you miss a connection and the wait for your train is more than an hour, assert your rights and settle for no less than a taxi home. If, that is, you can find an official to facilitate the ride. The Catch 22: ‘Availability of appropriate staff at the relevant station.’

Good luck!

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