Independent rail complaints service is launched

Rail passengers who are unhappy about how their complaints have been handled will be able to appeal via a service launched on Monday.

The Dispute Resolution Ombudsman is an independent body designed to hold train companies to account.

Figures show 28% of people who made a complaint to a rail company in 2017/18 were satisfied with the outcome.

It follows widespread disruption on the railways this year which has angered many passengers.

This included the botched rollout of a new timetable in May and repeated strikes which caused chaos on some lines.

The most common gripes last year were about punctuality and reliability, difficulties buying a ticket and not being able to find a seat.

The vast majority of complaints are dealt with by train companies without the need for people to turn to an appeals process, the Office of Rail and Road says.

However, passengers can use the ombudsman if they are unhappy with the final response from an operator or if their complaint has not been resolved within 40 working days.

It is thought around 6,000 complaints a year will be referred to the new service.

Its decisions will be binding and rail firms will have to take action if failings are identified.

Rail Minister Andrew Jones said the launch of the ombudsman would "make sure passengers are heard and that they get a fair deal when train companies fall short".

Jacqueline Starr, a managing director at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said the scheme would give passengers "even greater confidence that we're doing as much as we can to get to a fair outcome".

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said he expected the service to "drive improvements to the way most train operators handle passenger complaints".

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