TrainTrick has reached its final destination

TrainTrick has come to the end of the line. Yes, trains may still be delayed and overcrowded, though getting your delay repay compensation is now easier than ever. The journey from delay to refund has never been more convenient and a record number of people are holding their rail operator to account for delays. We like to think that TrainTrick made a difference in making these positive changes happen.

Around 18 months ago, two frustrated commuters were delayed on the way home due to there being no driver to operate the train. Wiser people would have sighed and got on with their lives. We set out on a quixotic mission to “fix train delays”.

Each year 140 million journeys are delayed and, in 2015, only around one in ten passengers claimed their rightful compensation. We realised that commuters were forgoing an opportunity to make the train companies to take note of their frustration (not to mention missing out on £150+ million in unclaimed refunds each year).

In a system surely inspired by Mel Brooks’ Producers, a franchise plagued with delays could be more profitable than a punctual service. Our solution was to make claiming delay repay compensation so easy that everyone would claim, thereby empowering commuters to hold train companies to account, and pressure them into improving rail services for everyone.

We started small with a simple app for submitting delay repay refund claims. Behind the scenes we were filling in our users’ paper delay repay forms by hand and making daily trips to the post office to send them off.

Shortly after launching, strikes on Southern Rail (one of London’s major commuter lines) brought chaos and misery to the lives of thousands of commuters. Stories of stranded passengers, missed job interviews and cancelled medical operations flooded the media and TrainTrick’s mission spoke to a growing sense of commuter frustration.

Our users’ convenience and success in obtaining payouts was soon reported in national papers, radio and TV. Thousands turned to TrainTrick for their compensation and as a way to bring about positive change in their commuters. Our daily envelopes of claims to train companies soon became mail bags and not long afterwards boxes of neatly completed train forms.

In this time we automated our submission processes and reached out to train companies to explore more efficient ways to submit compensation claims. While we suspected that the train companies would not appreciate the extra accountability we were creating for them, we did not foresee the cynical bully tactics that came next.

One by one, the train companies refused to pay out on our users’ perfectly valid claims. Next came legal threats against TrainTrick demanding that we shut down. We were advised that the train companies’ reasons for refusing to honour claims were spurious and that they would not withstand legal challenge. After all, we thought, services for helping consumers enforce their rights are entirely standard in other industries including airline delay compensation.

The problem with a legal challenge is that the train companies would be incentivised to draw the process out for as long as possible and to drive up the costs. Moreover, litigating with train companies would distract us from what we really wanted to do: improve the lives of commuters.

Legal threats notwithstanding, we refused to give in to the train companies’ mounting pressure and sought alternative ways to fight for a fair outcome for our users. Instead of shutting down, we developed technology to make claiming even easier by automatically detecting rail delays using smartphone GPS data. Our claim volume soared and, in response, the train companies ratcheted up their scare tactics.

Meanwhile, we wanted to ensure that our users’ wrongly rejected claims would be paid out and to clear the lines for future claims. Our mission was to persuade the government to weigh in on the side of commuters and innovation over the interests of rail companies.

We built a ragtag coalition of passenger advocacy groups and politicians representing commuter constituencies from across the political spectrum. Following weeks of persistent lobbying and countless rounds of political ping-pong we finally got a decision from the rail minister and rail regulators. Unfortunately, their response was a near verbatim copy of the train company talking points.

We redoubled our efforts, engaging with parliamentary committees and eventually managed to secure a parliamentary debate on the future of services such as TrainTrick in helping passengers access delay repay compensation. Despite our best efforts the regulators position did not budge and we realised we would have to change course.

While we decided what to do next we made TrainTrick entirely free: a service for the good of commuters, by commuters, supported by donations from commuters. During this time, the pressure on rail franchise operators to improve the claims process built from all directions. Eventually, the train companies relented and the outlook began to improve for passengers.

Since we launched TrainTrick, qualifying delay thresholds have been halved for many commuters, compensation is now paid out directly (in cash rather than in vouchers!) and train company claim submission systems continue to improve.

We are delighted that train companies are following our lead and are finally listening to the needs of passengers, meaning that there is now less of a need for TrainTrick. Hopefully this marks the beginning for a new golden age of rail commuting with digital technology providing new underpinnings for better rail experiences.

To the rail companies we say: more people than ever are closely watching your performance, listening to the concerns of commuters and looking at ways to make journeys better — with or without your support. You never know what innovative ideas the next train delay might inspire…

We want to say a special thank you to the following people: Norman Baker, Tom Brake, Vicky Foxcroft, Jim Fitzpatrick, Chris Philp, Baroness Randerson, David Sidebottom, Anthony Smith.

Wishing you a delay free onwards journey,

Ben and Aaron