All train companies will have to participate in the new rail ombudsman scheme to ensure passenger complaints are effectively scrutinised, under plans set out today by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
The scheme, currently being developed by the Rail Delivery Group, is expected to start later this year and is intended to help improve how train complaints are handled and lift industry standards.
The future ombudsman will be "free and independent" and have the power to make decisions which are binding on the rail company.
ORR deputy director of consumers, Stephanie Tobyn, said:
Our surveys show that passengers are often dissatisfied with the way their complaints are handled, and this damages their trust in rail companies and the railway industry in general.
An ombudsman scheme will give passengers real certainty, consistency and clarity in how their complaints are handled; that is why we want every rail company to be required to join it.
The economic and safety regulator for Britain's railways consulted last autumn on changes needed regarding the handling of rail complaints to ensure the effective rollout of the ombudsman scheme.
By modifying the licences of rail operators so that they have to participate in the ombudsman scheme it will not be up to rail companies to decide whether to join or leave the scheme.
The ORR said it felt this was a crucial step to assure passengers that their complaint will always have independent scrutiny if they want it.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said passengers will "welcome the consistency that comes with all train companies becoming members" of the new scheme.
"The rail network needs to work as just that with no gaps in consumer protection coverage," he said.
Meanwhile, Alex Hayman, Which? managing director of public markets, said: "Making it compulsory for train companies to sign up to the new rail ombudsman is absolutely vital. All passengers must have confidence that they have someone to turn to if their complaint is not dealt with adequately by train companies."