EU Sets Sights on Passenger Bill of Rights for Trains

Waiting for a Deutsche Bahn bullet train to Amsterdam in Cologne, Germany. (WILLIAM DOTINGA, Courthouse News Service)

(CN) – With just five of 28 states enforcing all European Union rules regarding rail passengers’ rights – and just as many giving exemptions to everything on rails in and outside their borders – the European Commission said Thursday it will crack down on poor treatment of riders just as it’s done with the airline industry.

For starters, the commission said it intends to treat all types of rail equally – meaning passengers using regional or inter-city lines should expect the same treatment as passengers on long-distance and cross-border trains. Currently, most EU states exempt urban, suburban and regional services from passenger-rights rules, while several exempt journeys that extend beyond the EU’s borders.

The time of exemption must end and all passengers need to know they have the same rights whether they’re riding a Deutsche Bahn ICE train from Berlin to Istanbul or the local milk train that stops at every town in Tuscany, the commission said.

“Thanks to the EU passengers have a full set of rights no matter where they travel in the EU. Yet there are still too many European train travelers and commuters who aren’t properly informed about their rights,” transport commissioner Violeta Bulc said in a statement. “That is what we want to fix with our new proposal. I am confident that our initiative will strengthen the sector, striking the right balance between the protection of travelers and the competitiveness of the rail sector.”

The commission proposes putting the passengers’ rights on the tickets, although it did not mention that in the age of the smartphone many passengers don’t have tickets. Additionally, the commission intends to ramp up enforcement for complaint handling and proposes sanctions when passenger concerns aren’t handled in a timely manner.

Disabled passengers would see an improvement in the way they’re treated on trains, and will be given a mandatory right to any assistance they need.

But the commission also threw the railways a bone by adding a force majeure clause to exempt companies from paying compensations when delays are caused by “natural catastrophes which they could neither foresee nor prevent.” Currently, railways must pay for delays no matter the reason.

The commission’s proposal must be approved by both the European Parliament and the EU Council before it becomes law.

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