RAIL fares expert Barry Doe offers clarification on any National Rail Timetable changes.
AS I write, it is only four weeks to the new National Rail Timetable, which will commence on December 13. Many people think it won’t happen - after all, the May NRT never materialised.
Having discussed this with Network Rail’s Milton Keynes managers, I can offer clarification. There will be a December NRT with files online, but it won’t be finalised until early December because some operators have requested cutting back their original plans.
Assuming lockdown finishes on December 2, some are nervous about the traffic growth that will occur - not least those who had planned a return to the pre-COVID December 2019 levels literally a week later.
Of course, the availability of paths means that all operators must change together, but some are retaining their current reduced services - such as Avanti West Coast, with its West Midlands and Manchester reductions that will remain until at least February/March 2021.
By March, there could well be significant changes - not exactly a ‘new NRT’, but one requiring many tables to be rewritten as operators start to return to normal. All this depends on the public’s use of rail, which in turn might depend on a COVID vaccination programme.
Once again, I won’t be in a position to deliver an NRT review in RAIL, although I hope to highlight major changes in The Fare Dealer as I learn of them.
In the meantime, one significant new twist is that Wightlink unilaterally decided to suspend its Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier Head ferry service from November 16, thereby effectively isolating Island Line services.
Hovertravel ( www.hovertravel.co.uk) has come to the rescue and is carrying throughbooked ticket holders without extra charge. However, this means passengers must alight at Portsmouth & Southsea for a dedicated bus to the hovercraft terminal.
Unfortunately, hovercraft are subject to suspension in rough weather. I’m told that if this happens, the dedicated bus from Portsmouth & Southsea will run to the Wightlink terminal at Gunwharf Road for the hourly vehicle ferry service to Fishbourne, where passengers will be met by a special Southern Vectis bus service to Ryde Esplanade.
This adds at least 70 minutes to the normal crossing. Needless to say, Isle of Wight Council is dismayed at such unilateral action by Wightlink, which has also suspended all ferries from Lymington Pier to Yarmouth at weekends.
As a user, my feeling is that Wightlink has little interest in foot passengers. I always use Red Funnel from Southampton to Cowes, which is vastly superior (although that is little consolation for those needing Island Line trains).
Next to railcards, and an apology. In The Fare Dealer for RAIL 917, I gave details of the new Veterans’ Railcard and said, regarding its use: “There is a Mon-Fri £12 minimum fare, except in July and August, and travel is not permitted on Mon-Fri between 0430 and 0959.”
In fact, it’s only the £12 minimum fare that applies between 0430 and 0959, and the railcard itself has no time restriction. This minimum fare does not apply to Advance tickets and, oddly, it seems it doesn’t apply to First Class fares either.
The railcard site doesn’t divulge this - another example of the industry being sloppy, as well as another indication of the complicated conditions attached to railcards in general.
Finally, a companion can be added (only at the time of purchase) free of charge. This allows the companion the same discounts as the holder, but the companion must always accompany the holder - as, of course, must any accompanying children travelling for 19% of the adult fare.
Since I wrote about the Department for Transport’s refusal to allow the industry to compensate railcard holders for the four months’ loss of use in the first lockdown ( RAIL 916), as I write we’re now in another month’s lockdown, so the situation is worse.
I said that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had made it clear that “a consumer will generally be entitled to a refund when they have paid money for services or goods that cannot be provided because of the Coronavirus pandemic”, adding that I hoped this would lead to users testing in the courts the legality of the DfT’s action.
Well, one reader is indeed doing this. He bought his railcard from Southeastern and has written to its Newcastle HQ saying: “Between March and July 2020 I was effectively deprived of the benefit of using my Railcard.”
It seems he discussed this with the CMA and goes on: “I share the CMA’s view that my contract with Southeastern has been frustrated and that I am entitled to compensation. The purpose of this letter is to claim such compensation.”
He concludes: “This letter is written in contemplation of legal proceedings, and is a pre-action protocol letter within the meaning of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998.”
I know all readers will be very interested in the outcome and will be grateful to him for raising it in this way.