EU strikes deal on rail passenger rights reform

The reforms are aimed at setting a single rail rights standard across the EU | Phil Nijhuis/AFP via Getty Images

EU strikes deal on rail passenger rights reform

New rules exempt operators from paying compensation in ‘exceptional circumstances’ such as pandemics.


New EU rail passenger rights rules agreed Thursday will give train companies the right to refuse compensation for delays stemming from circumstances beyond their control — mirroring similar provisions affecting air passengers.

The reforms are aimed at setting a single rail rights standard across the EU as trains are increasingly touted as a clean, hassle-free alternative to short-haul flights.

The final deal took three years to hash out, amid disputes over compensation for missed connections, help for disabled travelers and making it easier for people to travel with bicycles.

“We managed to secure the same minimal passenger rights all over the EU when it comes to spaces for bikes, through-tickets and rights of passengers with reduced mobility,” said Bogusław Liberadzki, the Polish Socialist MEP that led on the reforms for the European Parliament.

The agreement makes through-ticketing — connecting up a multi-leg journey into a single trip covered by passenger rights rules — mandatory if the trains are run by a single operator. That will make it easier to get compensation for missed connections, but advocates of easier rail travel wanted all rail tickets, including those offered by different operators, to be covered.

All trains will have to be equipped with bike racks, though the Council of the EU halved the mandatory number to four from the eight demanded by the Parliament.

Railways will have to reroute passengers for delays of more than 100 minutes and find alternative options for travel, as is the case today for airline passengers.

Disabled travelers will now only need to prenotify train staff 24 hours before departure of their needs, rather than the 48 hours at present.

“There are a few small good steps, but compared to the ambitions we had and, considering next year we are going to being having the EU year of rail, they seem small,” said Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg, a Green lawmaker working on the file.

One provision in the deal will give operators the right to refuse compensation requests in “exceptional circumstances,” though passengers can still get refunds on their tickets and help getting to their final destination.

Such a force majeure clause should cover extreme weather events and pandemics, but it’s not yet clear where the liability ends.

“The addition of a very wide and vague clause exempting railway operators from their obligations in cases of force majeure is a blow to passengers, legal certainty and will not [make] rail journeys across the EU more attractive,” said Isabelle Buscke from the Federation of German Consumer Organizations.

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The Council and the Parliament still need to sign off on the final deal. After that green light, the rules will come into effect starting two years later.

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Joshua Posaner