National Rail Conditions of Carriage
The National Rail Conditions of Carriage are a contractual document, setting out the consumer's rights and responsibilities when travelling on the National Rail network. When a train ticket is purchased, a contract is established. The CoC are the principal terms of that contract between traveller and train operating company, which have been established by the Rail Settlement Plan, which is part of the Association of Train Operating Companies. The document is available for public free download .
Condition 1 Your contract: A ticket that has been issued to you is evidence of a contract between you and each Train Company whose trains you have the right to use.
Additional terms do apply to travellers, primarily from two sources:
- For certain ticket types (such as those purchased at discount in advance),the Train Operating Companies concerned apply additional terms and conditions on top of the National CoC. However, Condition of Carriage 19 makes it the passenger's responsibility to ensure that their ticket is valid, and so any such additional terms must be available for examination when buying a ticket.
- The NRCOC cover the entitlement and restrictions of travellers, however they are not the only document to do so. Under the Transport Act 2000 (section 219), the Railway Bylaws also apply, though more generally.
Each ticket is issued subject to:'' (a) these Conditions; (b) the applicable byelaws;
(c) the conditions which apply to... certain types of reduced and discounted fare tickets as set out in the notices and other publications issued by the Train Companies whose trains you are entitled to use... [etc.]
The NRCOC are arranged into four sections plus three appendices, the current edition totalling 30 pages in print. Only the first section deals with passenger tickets; the rest concerning luggage and the like.
Whilst the NRCOC are referred to on all train tickets, at stations, and on internet sites selling tickets for rail travel, very few travellers ever bother to read the document, unless they find themselves in dispute with a rail company on some matter. They are, however, of use to the consumer, because they afford considerable rights to the traveller with regards ticket validity. This has become a matter of significant public interest recently, in view of the complex and convoluted pricing structure of rail tickets in Great Britain.
Issues of value to the consumer
It is not always possible to buy train tickets before travelling, in which case the traveller's primary defense is in:
Condition 2. Before you travel you must have a ticket or other authority to travel which is valid for the train(s) you intend to use and for the journey you intend to make. If you travel in a train without a ticket ... you will be liable to pay the full single fare or full return fare or, if appropriate, a Penalty Fare.
This condition has important exceptions for in the event of closed ticket offices, broken ticket machines, etc. With the recent news that guards are to become "revenue protection officers"  and accept no excuses, however reasonable, for not having a ticket, condition 2 becomes more important.
Recently, legitimate fare avoidance techniques have been much publicised in the UK press. They make use of techniques such as buying tickets which allow for a greater journey to be made than is actually desired, simply because that ticket is cheaper for some reason.
Also, the breaking of journeys into two parts, cheaper than one ticket for the same route would be, has become popular. This is allowed by three clauses:
Condition 19. Using a combination of tickets. You may use two or more tickets for one journey as long as together they cover the entire journey and ... the train you are in calls at the station where you change from one ticket to another... [other minor options apply]
Condition 16. You may start, or break and resume, a journey (in either direction in the case of a return ticket) at any intermediate station, as long as the ticket you hold is valid for the trains you want to use. You may also end your journey (in either direction in the case of a return ticket) before the destination shown on the ticket. However, these rights may not apply to some types of tickets for which a break of journey is prohibited, in which case the relevant Train Companies will make this clear in their notices and other publications.
The third clause is interesting; some companies, such as GNER, are known to have been strict in enforcing their own terms which prohibit "breaking a journey". However, consumers are able in practice to get around this, because of the way that is defined:
Condition 16. you will be treated as breaking your journey if you leave a Train Company’s stations after you start your journey ... other than ... to join a train at another station, or ... to follow any instructions given by a member of a Train Company’s staff
Merely disembarking from a train is never breaking a journey. Also, exiting ticket barriers to purchase a newspaper from the station newsagent, normally in the station booking-hall, does not constitute a break of journeys. This fact has been suggested as a loophole, enabling passengers with tickets prohibiting a break of journey, to practically do so, since once beyond the barriers, they are 'free' to leave in practice. Also, since all stations are now non-smoking, a request to staff leave to have a cigarette must now be granted, and is not a break of journey, either. Another point to remember here is that break of journey does not equal changing trains. It is perfectly legitimate to get off your train at every station it stops at and wait for the next one, as long as you don't leave UK railway property, and as long as the ticket isn't tied to one train of course.
When travellers come to make more 'unusual' journeys on their tickets, or change their plans, the validity of their ticket is tested with
Condition 13: You may travel between the stations shown on the ticket you hold in:
- (i) a [direct] through train;
- (ii) trains which take the shortest route which can be used by scheduled passenger services; or
- (iii) trains which take the routes shown in the National Routeing Guide (details as to how you can obtain this information will be available when you buy your ticket). [the catch-all]
Only should these not apply should an excess fare be charged. However, there have been many cases of passengers being charged extra unnecessarily.
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