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I often travel by intercity train in the UK on Advance tickets, which I usually book through the TOC's own website. The TOC has my electronic-mail address, but I never give it my mobile number.

I want to know whether the TOC having my mobile number (as opposed to just my electronic-mail address), would effect the outcome of the following scenario:

  • I had booked an Advance ticket;
  • the booked train were retimed at short notice;
  • as a direct result of the retiming, I did not get the booked train; and
    • either I ask the ticket office or train guard to allow me to travel on the next train instead
    • or I board the next train without getting explicit permission (because I believe I am entitled to do so)
    • or I board the next train without getting explicit permission (because the ticket office is closed or has a very long queue, and the next train is about to depart).

My qualm with giving a mobile number is that, if I arrive at the departure station and discover that my booked train had departed earlier than originally scheduled, the ticket office or train guard would refuse to allow me to travel on another train because "We sent an SMS to your registered mobile number telling you that the train had been retimed".

As I understand it, NRCOT entitles me to a full refund if a train is retimed. But it is unclear what happens if I still want to travel, but on a different train (e.g.: hourly services retimed to be 20 minutes earlier, but I prefer to get the departure 40 minutes later than the original time instead). In practice, I realise ticket restrictions are often lifted, but I want to know whether I can rely on this in principle, and whether the TOC's capacity to notify me of a train retiming makes any difference. My mobile telephone is often switched off, especially when I am travelling for leisure, and I do not want the obligation to check for notifications (on the other hand, I would like the opportunity to receive notifications if they are without prejudice to any rights I would have had absent said notifications).

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    As to your "qualm", is this specific to SMS? Couldn't it already happen that they say "we sent you an email to say the train was retimed"? – Nate Eldredge Sep 5 at 16:54
  • Electronic-mail is less of a concern, because I do not have a smartphone, and therefore I cannot be reasonably expected to have picked-up a notification by electronic mail (especially if I had been on holiday without my laptop). – anon Sep 5 at 17:00
  • In reply to a few comments by the OP below the answers: a short notice change of timetable generally results in an overall easing of restrictions. Even in event of a simple cancellation, passengers who arrive at the station early enough are often instructed to board an earlier train than they're booked on, despite the wording. – Chris H Sep 6 at 7:46
  • And just because you have emails on your smartphone doesn't mean you get a notification when one arrives - the email aspect seems to have no bearing either way – Chris H Sep 6 at 7:47
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The general rule is that if you're sold a ticket on that itinerary and the itinerary no longer becomes possible, either due to a last-minute delay or cancellation, or something planned further in advance (but after you bought your ticket), you are allowed to travel on the next available train by the same operator, or to get a full refund. This applies whether or not you heard of this issue in advance.

National Rail Conditions of Travel

30.1. If the train you intended to use is cancelled, delayed, or your reservation will not be honoured, and you decide not to travel, you may return the unused Ticket to the original retailer or Train Company from whom it was purchased, where you will be given a full refund with no administration fee being charged.

This Condition applies to all Tickets, including Tickets (such as advance Tickets) that are otherwise non-refundable, and also applies if you have begun your journey but are unable to complete it due to delay or cancellations and return to your point of origin.

This isn't for the precise scenario you listed but it's been my experience that this is generally what happens:

9.4. Where you are using a Ticket valid on a specific train service or train services (such as an ‘advance’ Ticket) and you miss a service because a previous connecting train service was delayed, you will be able to travel on the next train service provided by the Train Company with whom you were booked without penalty.

Plus there's this from the Advance Ticket Terms and Conditions:

If the train you purchased a ticket for is cancelled or is delayed and you still decide to travel, special arrangements will be made to accommodate you on another train (although a seat cannot be guaranteed).

In addition to all of this, there's the practical consideration that there's simply no way for the person at the station or on the train to know that you had a phone number associated with your booking. This won't be displayed anywhere on the ticket, and it's also not in the centralised reservation system. So even if you were expected to check your phone for alterations (which you're not), there's no practical way of them telling that you could have done so.

  • I am more concerned by trains that are retimed to be a bit earlier at short notice. A couple of years ago, Virgin Trains issued a "strike timetable" enumerating how a lot of trains would be retimed (and merged) in the event of a specific instance of planned industrial action going ahead. According to the "strike timetable", my booked train would depart 20 minutes earlier, which was incompatible with my schedule (because I had a meeting before getting the train). In the event, the strike was called-off at the last moment, so the trains ran as normal. But if the strike had gone ahead, ... – anon Sep 5 at 17:05
  • ...then it was unclear whether I would be able to get a later train (Virgin trains website did not say explicitly either way). Also, I should add that I heard about the "strike timetable" only because I had gone on the website a week earlier. If I had not done so and the strike had gone ahead, the retiming would have been with <48 hours notice. – anon Sep 5 at 17:06
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    The train company can not know whether you can catch that earlier train, as you may have commitments that keep you away from the station till your planned departure time. Getting a message on your phone will allow you to make a decision to go earlier or not. – Willeke Sep 5 at 17:16
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    Indeed. If it's incompatible with your schedule it's incompatible with your schedule. Nobody's going to think it's reasonable for you to have to catch a train 20 minutes earlier than booked. And refusing to do so is not going to jeopardise your ability to catch another reasonable alternative train, in this country. – Muzer Sep 5 at 17:22
  • ...especially if you had already boarded another form of transport for the previous stage of the journey, making it an impossiblilty, whether or not you received a message. – Weather Vane Sep 5 at 17:27

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