Rail Carriers Must Pay for Delays, EU Court Says

     (CN) – Rail companies must give partial ticket refunds to passengers delayed an hour or longer, even if the cause of the delay was unavoidable, Europe’s high court ruled Thursday.
     The European Union’s Court of Justice denied an Austrian rail carrier’s bid to avoid paying partial refunds to passengers delayed by “force majeur.”
     International law requires carriers to refund 25 percent of the ticket price for passengers delayed 60 to 119 minutes, and 50 percent for those delayed 120 minutes or longer.
     In its transport contracts, Austrian carrier OBB-Personenverkehr AG included a provision exempting it from paying partial refunds if a delay is due to unavoidable circumstances.
     When the Scheinen-Control Commission (Rail Network Control Commission) ordered the carrier to amend the terms of its contracts, and the carrier challenged the action in administrative court.
     The Austrian court referred the case to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling, and the high court said carriers cannot carve out an exemption for unavoidable delays.
     “Nothing in [EU regulations] provides that railway undertakings are exempt from the obligation to pay” for delays, even if those delays are unavoidable, the high court ruled.
     It noted that its finding is backed by the EU Legislature, which “deliberately chose not to provide that railway undertakings are to be exempt from their obligation to pay compensation” for delays due to force majeur.
     “In so doing, the EU Legislature considered that the railway carrier is under an obligation to pay compensation on the basis of the price paid by way of consideration for transport services which are not supplied in accordance with the transport contract, including where the delay is attributable to one of the reasons listed” in a set of uniform rules establishing the rights of rail passengers, the court explained.
     The ruling means OBB-Personenverkehr AG must remove its “force majeur” exemption.

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