If the train is canceled or severely delayed, the affected passengers have certain rights vis-à-vis the railway company. These rights are changing as of today. What about train passengers? An overview.
If the train arrives more than an hour late at the destination station, you can request a refund of 25 percent of the fare, and even 50 percent if it is more than two hours late. So far, the reason for the delay has played no role. It changes.
From June 7th, there are scenarios in which the right to compensation no longer applies. Then the new version of the EU regulation “on the rights and obligations of passengers in rail traffic” will come into force.
No compensation in extraordinary circumstances
This includes extraordinary circumstances that are beyond the railway company’s control, such as extreme weather, people on the tracks or cable theft. Important: Strikes by railway staff are not included.
So will the onset of winter be enough in the future to rule out compensation? Gregor Kolbe from the Federal Association of Consumer Centers (vzbv) estimates that the question of what extreme weather is within the meaning of this regulation will still concern the courts. His fear is: “The railway companies will now use this more often to reject demands.”
This is reminiscent of the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation, the interpretation of which regularly occupies courts. In the case of flat-rate compensation sums ranging from 250 to 600 euros, however, it is usually much more money than in the case of railway reimbursements, where the amounts are often only double-digit.
That’s why Kolbe also fears that when in doubt, rail travelers will probably not take legal action, even though they might be justified – simply because the effort isn’t worth it.
Important: Railway companies can only invoke extraordinary circumstances in the case of compensation claims. Other obligations remain unaffected: For example, in the event of major delays, the onward journey must be organized by other means or the passenger can have the fare reimbursed (Article 18 of the Ordinance).
Hotel accommodation may be limited
The right to assistance in the event of delays of more than one hour or train cancellations is largely unaffected by this – for example, the railway company must provide meals and refreshments in a reasonable proportion to the waiting time and, if necessary, accommodation in a hotel.
There is a small change in hotel accommodation. If extraordinary circumstances are the cause of the train cancellations, the railway company can limit hotel accommodation to a maximum of three nights, according to Article 20 of the regulation. There was no such restriction before.
Rebooking possible on your own in the future – at the cost of the train
Apart from the question of reimbursement, passengers who expect delays of more than one hour at the destination station generally have the choice of either having the fare reimbursed or continuing their journey, for example in the event of train cancellations.
You can continue your journey at the next opportunity or at a later time of your choice, whereby you can always choose another, comparable connection. According to the regulation (Article 18), the railway company must offer them the option.
From June 7th, according to the European Consumer Center (EVZ), the following will apply on the one hand: You can also be rebooked from the railway company to the train of another provider for the onward journey.
And on the other hand: rail passengers are explicitly granted the right to organize their own onward journey. The costs incurred can then be reclaimed from the railway company.
Flight connections and rental cars are not mentioned as alternative means of transport
Requirements: The passenger must either obtain the approval of the railway company for the rebooking. Or: the passenger was not informed of alternative onward travel options by the railway company within 100 minutes of the scheduled departure time, the missed connection or the canceled transport service.
In such a case, you can take care of alternative connections yourself. Restriction: The ordinance explicitly mentions train or bus connections of other “public transport services”. Consumer advocates, in turn, take a critical view of this.
The EVZ welcomes the fact that from now on there is the possibility of organizing the rebooking yourself. Because: “Many railway companies have not offered rebooking in the past,” reports EVZ lawyer André Schulze-Wethmar. “In addition, they have often refused to pay for the costs of self-organized rebookings.”
But: He is critical of the fact that flights are not mentioned as a rebooking option. “Especially for long cross-border journeys, rebooking on an airplane is often the most practical and often the most cost-effective solution,” says Schulze-Wethmar. Rental cars are also not mentioned in the regulation.
What are through tickets – and what rights do travelers have?
Suppose you book a night train journey with one provider and a ticket with a second train company that you want to use to travel to the night train departure point.
Then this train is cancelled, which is why you do not arrive and the night train leaves without you. In such a case, you are entitled to a refund for the first ticket, but you are left with the cost of the expired night train ticket.
Unless you have booked both tickets as a through ticket – this is valid for the entire route including changes. For such tickets, the new EU regulation in Article 12 creates more rights for rail passengers, but at the same time leaves loopholes for companies, as consumer advocates criticize.
In summary: If you buy a journey with several connections or several tickets as part of a business transaction from a railway company, this is considered a through ticket. In this case, rail passengers are entitled to normal rail passenger rights with reimbursement claims and the like for the entire rail journey.
On the other hand, if you have bought several tickets as part of a business transaction from an independent ticket seller or a tour operator who combines these tickets into one trip and miss a connection, the EU regulation applies from June 7th: The provider must refund the entire ticket price and pay an additional 75 percent of the ticket price as compensation.
Sounds great, but there is a catch: If you are informed on the tickets or on a supplementary information sheet before you buy them that the tickets represent separate contracts of carriage, these rights do not apply.
Be careful with the fine print
Expert Kolbe from the Federal Association of Consumer Centers clarifies what this means: “If it says in the small print that there are two separate tickets, they have no consistent passenger rights. This keeps loopholes open.”
When in doubt, train passengers can only read up carefully before buying or ask the provider whether it is a through ticket if they want to know the passenger rights on their side in the event of possible problems on the journey.
Problem with long journeys often remains unsolved
According to André Schulze-Wethmar from the European Consumer Center, the new regulations on through tickets do not yet solve the main problem of longer train journeys in particular.
This is because different railway companies are usually involved in cross-border journeys. Schulze-Wethmar criticizes that the obligation laid down in the new regulation for individual railway companies to offer through tickets at least for all transport services operated by them does not apply here.
“In the past, we have received many complaints that no through tickets are offered for long journeys,” says Schulze-Wethmar. “Instead, sections of the journey abroad had to be booked separately.” If the train is delayed and the connection is missed as a result, rail passengers will have to bear the costs for rebooking themselves in such cases in the future.
Shorter deadline for complaints
The deadline for requesting money back from the railway company in the event of a delay or train cancellation is currently one year after the ticket has expired, reports the EVZ. This is also how Deutsche Bahn handles it.
In the future, travelers may have to act more quickly here. According to Article 28 of the new regulation, the complaint must be submitted no later than three months after the incident.
Where the EU railway regulation applies
The regulation on rail passenger rights applies to long-distance and local transport in all EU member states as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It sets the minimum requirements. This means that the individual states can set even more consumer-friendly rules.
In Germany there are two examples of consumer-friendly rules from the German Railway Traffic Ordinance (EVO) that go beyond the EU Rail Passenger Rights Ordinance:
What also applies in Germany
According to Article 8 of the EVO, holders of a regional train ticket can, under certain circumstances, alternatively change to a higher-value train (which does not require a reservation) – for example an ICE – if the delay at the destination station is expected to be more than 20 minutes. You have to buy an ICE ticket first, but you can reclaim the costs later.
And: If the scheduled arrival time is between midnight and 5 a.m. and a delay of at least one hour at the destination station is foreseeable, Regioticket holders can also use another means of transport to get to their destination, such as a taxi.
This is also possible if it is the last scheduled connection of the day, which is canceled and you can no longer arrive at the destination station by midnight without other means of transport.
For these two cases, the EVO, which has also been revised, provides for a maximum refundable amount of 120 euros in the future, previously it was 80 euros. The new EVO will come into force on June 7th, parallel to the new EU regulation.
What to do with the train complaint?
According to the EU regulation, every larger railway company and every larger train station with an annual average of more than 10,000 passengers per day must set up procedures for handling complaints.
At Deutsche Bahn, complaints for tickets purchased via a customer account can be initiated online at “Bahn.de” or in the “DB Navigator” app.
Or: You fill out a passenger rights form and send it by post to the Passenger Rights Service Center in 60647 Frankfurt/Main. In some cases, compensation is also available directly from the DB travel center.