New European rail passengers’ rights: a hit or miss?

20200505, Antwerpen. centraal station. Illustratiefoto's tonen maatregelen omtrent COVID-19 in het treinverkeer. COVID; covid-19; nmbs; spoorweg; treinbegeleider; conducteur; transport; mondmasker; social distancing; veiligheid 20200505 ID/ Jonas Roosens

The European Parliament has approved the agreement with member states on the revised rules on rail passengers’ rights last week. The rules should guarantee that passengers can be re-routed and receive help when there are delays and cancellations, and there are improvements for people with reduced mobility and in bringing a bike on the train. According to the European Passengers’ Federation (EPF), it is a missed opportunity as the updated regulation does not go far enough.

The first EU legislation for Rail Passenger Rights entered into force in December 2009. In 2017, the European Commission started with the revision of these rules. After a long process, they are now approved by the Parliament and will start to apply in two years.

European Parliament rapporteur Bogusław Liberadzki: “We managed to secure the same minimum passenger rights all over the EU when it comes to re-routing, spaces for bikes, through-tickets and the rights of passengers with reduced mobility. These are important advances in making rail travel more convenient and passenger-friendly”.


The improved re-routing is one of the few satisfactory results of the updated passenger rights, according to Michel Quidort, President of the European Passengers’ Federation. “If disruptions happen, passengers travelling with ‘through-tickets’ will be proposed alternative solutions – but only if this is the same operator which is in charge of both legs of the journey.” He calls it a ‘very restrictive approach, especially for international trips’.

If there is a delay of over 60 minutes, passengers can choose either to be fully reimbursed for the cost of the ticket, continue on their journey or be re-routed under comparable conditions, but without facing additional costs. They must be able to travel in the same class as their original ticket. Train travellers will be able to organise travel on a different route themselves and get reimbursement for a new ticket if the rail operator does not communicate re-routing options within 100 minutes from scheduled departure. The re-routing obligations will also apply in the event of force majeure and if necessary, meals and refreshments will need to be provided, and accommodation costs will be reimbursed.

The new rules will also give more clarity on what can be considered a force majeure, which would exempt rail companies from paying compensation for delays or cancellations. In addition to extreme weather conditions and major natural disasters, the new rules now include major public health crises or terrorist attacks. Rail staff strikes will not be covered by this exemption.

Not enough

Overall, the European Passengers’ Federation, which campaigns for passenger rights throughout Europe, is not satisfied with the new passenger rights, and calls it a missed opportunity. “The EPF is deceived by the result of the legislative process, which is far from our expectations”, says President Michel Quidort. He highlights that their four main points have not been satisfied. These include the end of national exemptions and the inclusion of regional and suburban services in the scope of the Regulation. “In the EU, 9 out of 10 train passengers travel on these services”. National governments can decide for themselves whether or not these rights also apply to domestic rail services (regional, urban, suburban transport) and international services that start or finish their journey outside the EU.

Also, the EPF would rather have seen a deletion of the Force Majeure excuse and more protection of through-tickets. However, there are also some satisfactory results, says Quidort.” The 24 hour (and no more 48 hour) advance notice to arrange assistance in stations for passengers with reduced mobility, and the possibility to take bikes on board is recognised. But the implementation is left to rail undertakings’ goodwill. Last minute provision which better protects train passengers when there are delays or cancellations is also welcome.”

More bicycles and accessibility

With the updated rights, travellers with reduced mobility will have more flexibility when making travel arrangements. They will be obliged to notify the operator of their travel plans 24 hours in advance, when under current rules, they have to notify the operator 48 hours in advance. Where an accompanying person is required, they can travel free of charge. Travellers using an assistance dog shall be given a guarantee that the animal can travel with them. In an effort to provide more sustainable mobility and comfortable alternatives, all trains must be equipped with dedicated spaces and racks for bicycles, with at least four bicycle spaces on each train.

ScotRail train with bicycle sign
A ScotRail train with dedicated space for bicycles

The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) expressed their support to the agreement on the new rules, as it introduces a higher level of customer protection. CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola said: “In a context of increasing intermodal competition, rail customers are better protected than in other modes of transport. I would like to thank the co-legislators and the European Commission for their hard work over the past four years. It’s now time for the sector to implement the new EU requirements”.

Next steps

The revised rules will apply in principle to all international and domestic rail journeys and services throughout the EU, with a possibility for member states to exempt domestic rail services for a limited time.

The rules will enter into force 20 days after they are published in the Official Journal of the EU. They will start to apply two years later as a transition period. The bicycle space requirements are an exception, which will be applicable four years after the entry into force of the regulation.

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Author: Esther Geerts


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