Rail strikes: how to get a refund for disrupted travel

Three days of rail strikes are planned for June, but travellers may be able to get refunds for tickets they have already purchased

people waiting on a train platform next to a train
(Image credit: Future/Getty Images)

Three days of rail strikes are planned for later this month. Rows over job cuts, pay freezes and pensions are the reasons why rail workers are striking, and this travel disruption follows on from the flight cancellations that blighted many holiday makers over the recent half-term and Jubilee weekend.

The strikes coincide with big events which people would likely rely on rail travel in order to attend, such as the Glastonbury festival and an England cricket match, as well as disrupting the usual commuting plans of many. 

The rail strikes are also bad news for anyone hoping to save money on fuel by travelling by train instead. Additionally, those who have tried to bag cheap train tickets by buying them in advance, may be concerned that they won’t be able to travel and won’t be able to get their money back either. 

However, if your planned rail journey is impacted you may be able to claim a refund. 

When are the rail strikes planned for and which operators will be affected? 

There are three dates planned for the rail strikes: the 21, 23 and 25 June. 

More than a dozen rail operators ‒ as well as staff at National Rail itself ‒ are involved in the strike.

Rail workers at the following firms are taking industrial action:

  • Avanti West Coast
  • C2c
  • Chiltern Railways
  • Cross Country Trains
  • East Midlands Railway
  • Greater Anglia
  • Great Western Railway
  • LNER
  • London Underground
  • Northern Trains
  • South Eastern
  • South Western Railway
  • TransPennine Express
  • West Midlands Trains

London Underground workers are also striking on the 21 June ‒ but services on the Tube should be unaffected by the industrial action taking place on the other dates.

Why are the rail strikes happening? 

According to RMT, the trade union behind the industrial action, train operating firms have frozen staff pay for years and now plan to cut thousands of jobs, which the union claims will threaten safety standards.

The union has been arguing for a new pay proposal from rail bosses, as well as a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, but no agreement has been reached. As the dispute has continued, more train strikes have been scheduled to take place in July and August, with Aslef - the union representing train drivers - also becoming involved in strike action, leaving many asking questions about how much train drivers earn.

The situation with London Underground members of the union is slightly different, with an ongoing dispute over pensions as well as job losses behind their decision to walk out.

Can I get a refund if I'm affected by the rail strikes? 

The rail strikes are obviously bad news if you were planning to travel by rail over the affected period. Indeed, the RMT has been clear that the industrial action will impact travel across the full week, and not just the three days on which the strikes take place.

However, you may be able to get a refund if your journey is impacted. But bear in mind, other measures will also be offered, such as rail replacement or the option to use your ticket on a different route, which may affect your chances of qualifying for a refund.

Some operators, for example, may only offer refunds if you cannot travel at all, or suffer delays when using these substitute services.

Ultimately it all comes down to the individual operator, so it’s worth speaking with them to get a clearer idea of whether you will qualify for a refund, and how to go about claiming one.

Refunds can also be claimed for season and flexi-season tickets, though be warned, there may be an admin charge to take into account.

National Rail has urged passengers to check that their planned service is still running before travelling, as well as to research alternatives should their journey be impacted. It has suspended selling ‘advance’ tickets for the days affected by the strike, until it has a better idea of its likely timetable.

The timetable will be published on the industrial action section of the National Rail website once it’s settled.

Can I get a refund for any additional costs I face because of the rail strikes? 

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to claim a refund for any additional costs you might face. It is absolutely possible that the rail strikes will lead to further costs for you to deal with. For example, if you are unable to travel home from a domestic holiday then that might mean having to pay for an extra night in a hotel.

However, additional costs won’t be covered by National Rail ‒ you’ll have to stump up the money yourself.

Can I use my existing ticket on a different day or to travel with a different train operator? 

National Rail has said that the validity of all non-season tickets will be extended because of the industrial action.

This extension runs from the day before the strike to up to two days after any strike action takes place. As a result, you may be able to use your ticket to travel at a different time, or even across a different route with a rival rail operator, in order to reach your planned destination.

However, it’s important to note that individual operators may handle it differently, so it’s important to speak to the operator to understand what’s on offer for you.

John Fitzsimons
Personal finance expert

John Fitzsimons has been writing about finance since 2007, and is a former editor of Mortgage Solutions and loveMONEY. Since going freelance in 2016 he has written for publications including The Sunday Times, The Mirror, The Sun, The Daily Mail and Forbes, and is committed to helping readers make more informed decisions about their money.