Eu weakens rights of rail passengers – now threatened with lawsuits

At the Rail there has been a clear trend for years: More and more passengers are asserting their rights in the event of train delays and are demanding a Compensation of up to 50 percent of the ticket price.

Before the Corona crisis, the last over 50 million euros paid out annually to rail customers. But in the future, many passengers are likely to go home empty-handed despite the inconvenience they have suffered: The European Union is significantly restricting compensation claims, and the railroads will be released from the obligation to pay in the event of "extreme weather conditions" and other cases of force majeure.

European rail companies see themselves at a disadvantage

The EU Parliament will pass the correspondingly amended pan-European passenger rights regulation by a majority this Thursday, despite protests from consumer advocates. "Lowering rail passenger rights sends the wrong signal," warned Klaus Muller, head of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv), in a letter to EU MEPs. Green Party transport expert Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg speaks of a "massive step backwards for rail travelers".

So far, the Europe-wide Regulation clear and reliable: from 60 minutes of delay, the railroad must refund at least 25 percent of the fare on request; from 120 minutes, 50 percent is due.

Eu weakens rights of rail passengers - now threatened with lawsuits

The procedure in Germany is still cumbersome; those affected have to fill out a form on paper and send it by mail to the railroad company. From the summer onwards, applications can also be submitted simply via the Internet can be made. However, this is unlikely to compensate for the regression in compensation law.

The claims are a thorn in the side of many rail companies in Europe, who complain a Competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis airlines, which do not have to pay compensation in cases of force majeure, even for long delays. Background: Train instead of flight: Lufthansa wants to say goodbye to domestic flights

New regulation to take effect from 2023

The systems are difficult to compare with each other, yet the railroad companies have prevailed. After years of negotiations, Parliament and the member states agreed on a regulation under which, from 2023 onwards, rail companies will have to bear the costs in cases of force majeure "under special circumstances" are exempt from the obligation to pay: This is mainly aimed at "extreme weather conditions", severe thunderstorms, heavy storms and black ice.

But the clause also applies to public health crises like a Pandemic. What that means exactly in individual cases is unclear. Restrictively, it also states the companies are not exempt if they could have prevented the delay through proper maintenance, for example.

The regulation creates Legal uncertainty for passengers and opens the door for companies to avoid paying compensation, warns consumer protection chief Muller. "Rail travel will become less reliable and thus less attractive for consumers," he says.

EU member states rejected full price reimbursement

The European consumer association Beuc fears that companies will try to invoke this exemption even if they have at least one Joint responsibility for example, in the event of overhead line damage. Rail customers would have to prove in case of doubt that it was not an exceptional situation.

The Verkehrsclub Deutschland (German Transport Club) has already expressed concern that in individual cases passengers would not even know what the official cause of the delay was and whether they would have any claims at all. It is safe to say that, as in the case of air transport many individual questions now have to be clarified in court.

Critics are particularly disappointed that at least higher compensation amounts could not be pushed through in return: The EU Parliament had originally rejected the cuts and called for compensation to be doubled; from two hours of delay, the ticket would have had to be fully replaced. That blocked the Member States but from.

Consumer advocates criticize reform as "deterioration"

After all, the final amendment to the ordinance contains some improvements on other points: A new feature is the right to Bicycle to take with them on the train. The only problem is that rail customers in Germany do not benefit at all from the four mandatory bicycle parking spaces, complains consumer advocate Muller, because higher standards already apply in this country.

The rules for necessary train detour or suitable connecting services will also be strengthened: tickets will be ied consistently if a train provider is responsible for the journey along the entire route – even after a change of trains. In the case of delays, it is therefore clear which company is responsible for the Alternative connections or have to pay damages if necessary. Small improvements for people with disabilities and reduced mobility.

But that's not enough, consumer advocate Muller complains: "The negative consequences for passengers outweigh the positive effects."The reform would lead to a "deterioration of the status quo". The Destination, Making rail a more attractive, reliable and legally secure mode of transport would not be achieved.

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