EU Adopts new Rail Passenger Rights

It includes a new obligation for carriers qualifying as a ‘sole undertaking’ to offer their international, long-distance domestic and regional rail services as a through-ticket

Press Release: The European Parliament took the final step to modernising rail passenger rights within the EU. The European Commission welcomes the new legal framework, which will strengthen passengers’ protection in case of disruptions.

European Commissioner for Mobility and Transport Adina Vălean said: “I welcome the agreement reached today. The new rules will significantly improve rail passengers’ protection in case of delays, cancellations, missed connections. Also, the new regulation responds better to the needs of people with disabilities or reduced mobility. Strong rail passenger rights are essential to improving the sector’s image and attracting more people to rail, two of our objectives for the European Year of Rail.”

The new rail passenger rights framework follows a 2017 Commission proposal and will apply as of 6 June 2023. It includes a new obligation for carriers qualifying as a ‘sole undertaking’ to offer their international, long-distance domestic and regional rail services as a through-ticket. As a “sole undertaking” qualify carriers, where for example one rail carrier owns 100% of another one. This would ensure a more comprehensive protection for passengers against missed connections when travel is disrupted (including ticket reimbursement or compensation, the right to accommodation when a journey cannot continue the same day, and refreshments).

Infrastructure managers and railway undertakings will now have to provide real-time dynamic traffic and travel information, not only to railway undertakings, but also to ticket vendors and tour operators. Allowing entities selling tickets access to information on real-time delays, reservations and availability requests, will boost the dynamic within the rail ticketing market and support efforts to offer more innovative tickets. In addition, where passengers have not been offered a solution – within 100 minutes of the disruption – as to how the journey can continue, they will have a new right to self-re-routing. In such cases, passengers will be entitled to themselves organise an alternative public transportation by rail or bus, and be reimbursed by the carrier for the ‘necessary, appropriate and reasonable’ cost of the additional ticket.

The new rules also ensure dedicate places for the carriage of assembled bicycles on-board new trains and those that have had major upgrades.

The new rules also shorten the pre-notification period for assistance requests for those with disabilities or reduced mobility to 24 hours – significantly shorter than that required by other transport modes (36 hours for bus and coach travel, and 48 hours for the air and waterborne sector). If a Member State decides to apply a longer pre-notification period, then it can do so only until 30 June 2026, and would have to explain to the European Commission the reasons why. The obligation to provide assistance at shorter notice will help make travelling by rail more inclusive.

On enforcement, the new rules include a strengthened complaint-handling mechanism, and they reinforce the obligation for National Enforcement Bodies to cooperate. In the future, a new EU-wide standardised compensation and reimbursement form will be developed and also accessible to persons with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility. Railway undertakings and National Enforcement Bodies concerned will have to accept to deal with requests using this form. However, where the passenger has not used the standardised form, the request cannot be rejected solely on this ground.

To establish a level playing field with the other transport modes, the regulation clarifies that railway undertakings do not have to pay compensation for delays or cancellation caused by ‘force majeure’. This applies to extraordinary circumstances not connected with the operation of the railway, such as for example extreme weather, pandemics and terrorist attacks. The provision would apply only if the carrier could neither prevent nor avoid – irrespective the due care taken – the consequences of these events. A strike by rail carrier’s staff does not qualify as an extraordinary circumstance. The force majeure clause would only release the railway undertaking from the payment of compensation for delays or cancellations. This means that even when force majeure applies, the railway undertaking will still need to reimburse the cost of the ticket or to re-route the passenger to another service, and to provide assistance.

For further details, please consult the document below.

Next steps

The new Rail Passenger Rights Regulation will now be formally adopted and signed by the European Parliament and the Council, and published in the Official Journal on 12 May 2021. It will enter into force on the 20th day after its publication, and be applicable 24 months later, i.e. as of 6 June 2023.

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