Eurostar and five more operators join the Agreement on Journey Continuation: what does it entail?
Six new railway undertakings, including Eurostar, have or will soon join the Agreement on Journey Continuation (AJC). This multilateral agreement between European operators supports international rail passengers in reaching their final destination after they miss a booked connecting train due to delay or cancellation of a previous train. What does the agreement mean exactly, and does it go far enough to improve the situation for passengers?
Next to Eurostar, joining the Agreement on Journey Continuation are Hungarian operator MÁV-Start, the Croatian HŽPP, Lithuanian LTG Link, Polish PKP Intercity, and GYSEV, a regional railway company that offers cross-border public rail passenger services in Western Hungary and Eastern Austria.
All participating railway operators, which before amounted to 16 including Deutsche Bahn, SNCF, ÖBB, Trenitalia, Renfe, NS, and more, agreed to allow passengers who had a delayed train and missed their connection to board the next available train with the same carrier. The passenger has to request a confirmation of delay at the staff of the delayed/cancelled train. A seat in the next train is not guaranteed, as the seats could already be fully booked.
When legislation does not help passengers
The Agreement was initiated by the International Rail Transport Committee (CIT) and the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) and its members, and governed by the CIT. The International Rail Transport Committee (CIT) is an association of railway undertakings and shipping companies that operate international passenger and/or freight transport services, focusing on legal expertise in railway transport.
According to the CIT website, the AJC covers cases where the current European or international legislation does not help the passengers. For example, if they bought several different tickets for their journey, even from different sales channels or ticket providers. The conditions in the Agreement are that it concerns an international train journey, with separate transport contracts with each operator, and there are reasonable connecting times between the trains, “according to the official railway planner”, as is stated in an information leaflet about the AJC published by CIT.
What exactly entails a reasonable connection time, CIT rail passenger expert Jan Favra explained during the event RailTech Live about seamless ticketing last year. “If a passenger is choosing 1 minute of change over time, this is not a reasonable connecting time. From a passenger point of view, in timetable data there is something called the ‘minimum connecting time’, which every station has”.
“Not good enough”
The Agreement is on a good-will basis and does not provide rights to passengers. That is also the main critique of some in the railway sector. Nick Brooks, Secretary General of ALLRAIL, representing new entrants to the railway sector, tells RailTech: “The Agreement is still suboptimal for those whom it is meant to serve: the passengers. This is because it remains voluntary, there is always the risk that an operator can leave at will. Hence it remains a lottery. In the Single EU Rail Market, where the need to change trains between any 2 places is on average much higher than buses, cars or planes, this is simply not good enough.”
The CIT acknowledges that as the AJC is a commercial gesture, it is a self-binding offer from railway undertakings, which sets it apart from the rights people can claim for example under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation. When the agreement would not be honoured, there are thus few actions one can take, and no apparent consequences for the concerned railway operators.
While there are Passenger Rights established by EU legislation, these are – according to the European Passengers’ Federation (EPF) – not sufficient. The Passenger Rights were revised recently, going into force last June, but the EPF called it a “missed opportunity”.
In the new Passenger Rights, a passenger only has the right to either reimbursement of a ticket when there is a more than 60-minute delay or the right to continue their journey under comparable conditions to reach their final destination at the earliest opportunity if they have a through-ticket for your train journey. A trough-ticket is a single transport contract for successive railway services operated by one or more railway undertakings, but often for an (international) journey with multiple legs, there are multiple contracts with different operators. That is why the Agreement on Journey Continuation was brought to life: because the rights in itself do not exist under current legislation.
If not done voluntarily by the sector, EPF demands regulatory intervention
AllRAIL’s Nick Brooks does say that AJC is “a step in the right direction”. The private operator European Sleeper, an associate member of ALLRAIL, has joined, among many of the state-owned European railway companies. When asked what would be the alternative to improve passengers’ journey in case of delays and cancellations, Brooks advocates a mandatory Missed Connection Protection across all operators, with the right to board the next available train to your final destination without additional cost.
He points to another existing sector initiative, called “Hop On The Next Available Train” (HOTNAT). This agreement is currently for high-speed rail services only, and allows travelers to take the next high-speed service leaving from the same station as originally planned when a delay on or cancellation of a preceding high-speed service prevents them from making their originally-planned connection when they are a member of Railteam. This is an alliance of “Europe’s leading high-speed railways”. Thus, Eurostar was already a part of this agreement, but it did not cover the case when a passenger missed a Eurostar train due to their domestic train, for example from Utrecht in the Netherlands to Eurostar stop Amsterdam, was delayed. According to Brooks, the best solution for passengers is a mandatory Hop On The Next Available Train.
The European Passengers Federation is in favour of the Agreement on Journey Continuation, but also notes: “it needs improvement if it is to be truly fit for purpose. Every railway undertaking must join it, its application needs to be passenger-friendly, and its existence and provisions should be made known to every passenger when searching and booking their trip”. The organisation also emphasises that if this “basic contribution cannot be delivered voluntarily by the whole sector, we are demanding regulatory intervention”.