Southern disruption: A month's travel repaid as compensation
Rail passengers hit by long-running disruption on the Southern network are to be repaid the equivalent of a month's travel, the government and rail operator have announced.
Payments will be made to eligible customers under a new compensation scheme to go live in January.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it would be a one-off compensation payment to season ticket holders.
Govia Thameslink (GTR) apologised for "many months of disruption and misery".
Annual season ticket holders will receive a payment equivalent to one month's travel with quarterly, monthly and weekly season ticket holders being able to claim an equivalent payment for the ticket type.
The rail operator said it was also introducing a more generous Delay Repay scheme on Southern and Gatwick Express from 11 December, which would compensate passengers for delays of more than 15 minutes rather than the current 30 minutes.
However, it also said Southern and Gatwick Express fares would rise by an average of 1.8% from 2 January, which it said was in line with other train operators' annual increases.
The RMT union, which has staged a series of strikes on the Southern network in a dispute over guards' roles, branded the fares hike "another kick in the teeth for British passengers".
The DfT said more than 84,000 passengers would be compensated following disruption which it said was caused by Network Rail track failures, engineering works, unacceptably poor performance by the operator and the actions of the RMT.
Rail minister Paul Maynard said: "When things do go wrong it is right that we compensate people who have not had the service that they deserve."
Charles Horton, GTR chief executive, said disruption had followed both industrial action and poor performance. He said: "For that I am truly sorry."
However, union chief Mick Cash said passengers were continuing to pay some of the highest fares in Europe to travel on "rammed-out and unreliable trains".
He said: "Once again the rip-off private train companies are laughing all the way to the bank as they whack up fares and axe staff in an all-out dash to maximise their profits."
Louise Ellman MP, chair of the transport select committee, said the enhanced compensation was "long overdue".
She added: "One month's money back is the very least that Southern railway season ticket holders deserve."
Passengers reacted to the fare increase on Twitter with anger.
Natasha Devan tweeted: "This is utterly unacceptable. We cannot be expected to pay more £ for this shocking service #southern @ABCommuters"
And TheRailwayInspector wrote: "If the service was IMPROVING then maybe I'd be happy to pay more, but if anything, it's worse #southern #Southeastern"
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald posted that the month's refund was welcome but described it as an admission of government failure and proof that intervention was overdue.
In reply, commuter Nic Davis wrote: "@AndyMcDonaldMP great but the fair [sic] increase is still going ahead. That feels incredibly unfair."
The Southern network is braced for further disruption throughout December with several strikes planned by two unions, the RMT and Aslef.
Southern rail strike dates:
00:01 Tuesday 6 December to 23:59 Thursday 8 December (RMT)
00:01: Tuesday 13 December to 23:59 Wednesday 14 December (Aslef)
00:01 Friday 16 December to 23:59: Friday 16 December (Aslef)
00:01 Monday 19 December to 23:59 Tuesday 20 December (RMT)
00:01 Saturday 31 December to 23:59 Monday 2 January (RMT)
00:01 Monday 9 January to 23:59: Saturday 14 January (Aslef)
The government said the one-off compensation payment could be paid directly into passengers' bank accounts or claimed as vouchers.
GTR said Southern would contact eligible customers directly and a website was being set up for passengers to apply online if they were not contacted but believed they were eligible.
Customers claiming against quarterly, monthly or weekly tickets must have bought travel for at least 12 weeks between 24 April and 31 December to be qualify for the payment, GTR said.