A reform of EU rail passenger rights will strengthen the rights of all passengers, and in particular those with disabilities or reduced mobility. It will also make it easier to transport bicycles on trains. The Council today adopted the revised rules, which also include many other improvements, such as reinforced provisions on re-routing and on the use of through-tickets, which will improve protection in the event of missed connections.
This regulation is a major step forward regarding the accessibility of persons with reduced mobility to railway services. Infrastructure managers and railway undertakings will have to adapt and progressively make railway services accessible to all. Another breakthrough of this regulation is the obligation to provide spaces for bicycles on trains, which normally are not able to offer door-to-door services. The integration of soft transport modes will improve passenger mobility and increase the attractiveness of railways.
Pedro Nuno Santos, Portuguese Minister for Infrastructure and Housing, President of the Council
Main changes compared to the current rules
Passengers will enjoy improved protection in an increased number of different rail services, as a large number of exemptions allowed by the current regulation will be phased out.
Stronger rights for people with disabilities or with reduced mobility will apply in the future as the current exemption of regional trains from most of the provisions relating to persons with disabilities or reduced mobility will be completely phased out by 2023. From that date on, the right to receive assistance when boarding and disembarking from trains will apply to all regional and long-distance trains in the EU, provided that trained staff are on duty. Other improvements include the right to buy a ticket on board if there is no accessible alternative for buying the ticket beforehand, improved provision of information, training of staff and clearer rules on compensation for lost or damaged mobility equipment. The advance notice to be given by persons with disabilities or reduced mobility who require assistance will be reduced from a minimum of 48 hours to 24 hours, and voluntary arrangements covering shorter pre-notification periods will be encouraged.
To encourage green mobility, it will become easier for passengers to take their bikes on board. Railway undertakings will be obliged to install bicycle spaces, and passengers will be informed of available capacity. The general rule will be at least four spaces for bicycles on each train. After consulting the public, railway undertakings may decide to include a different number of spaces based on the type of service, the size of the train and the foreseeable demand for carriage of bicycles. Member states may also set this number higher if there is a greater demand for carrying bicycles. The bicycle space requirements will apply when a railway undertaking orders new rolling stock or when it performs a major upgrade of older rolling stock.
Rail companies will be encouraged to increase their offer of through-tickets. These are single tickets which are valid for successive legs in a journey, and they safeguard the rights to re-routing and compensation in the event of delays or missed connections. Through-tickets will be mandatory if connecting trains are run by a sole railway undertaking, for example when a journey involves a connection between a regional and a long-distance train.
Passengers must be clearly informed whether tickets bought in a single transaction constitute a through-ticket. The rail company will otherwise be liable as if those tickets were through-tickets.
The new rules will clarify and expand protection in cases where passengers need re-routing to their final destination. The rail operator will need to try to re-route the passenger in all circumstances, including cases requiring alternative modes of transport. If the operator has not managed to communicate the available options to the passenger within 100 minutes, s/he may take alternative public land transport on her/his own initiative and the train company must reimburse the necessary cost.
The minimum compensation for delays will remain unchanged (25% of the ticket price for a delay of 60 to 119 minutes, and 50% of the ticket price for a delay of 120 minutes or more).
A force majeure clause addressing compensation for delayed rail services will bring legal clarity and create a more level playing field in relation to other modes of transport, for which such clauses already exist. Rail companies will not need to pay compensation for delays or cancellations in circumstances they could not have avoided, such as extreme weather conditions, major natural disasters or major public health crises, including pandemics. Rail staff strikes will not be covered by this exemption. In addition, re-routing obligations will apply even in the event of force majeure.
As the regulation lays down a minimum level of protection, railway undertakings are free and encouraged to introduce more stringent rules to protect passengers’ rights.
Today’s vote means that the Council has adopted its position at first reading. The legal act now needs to be adopted by the European Parliament at second reading before being published in the EU Official Journal. The revised regulation will enter into force twenty days after its publication. It will start to apply two years later, with the exception of the bicycle space requirements, which will be applicable four years after the entry into force of the regulation.
Leading up to the formal adoption, a provisional agreement was reached between the Council presidency and the European Parliament on 1 October 2020. The agreed text was endorsed by the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee on 21 October 2020.