The European Union's (EU) commitments in the domain of rail transport aim to ensure a high level of passenger protection.
Common rules are in effect as regards the compensation of passengers travelling by train in the event of cancellation or significant delay, injury or death, or loss of baggage.
All disabled persons or persons with reduced mobility are covered by this legislation.
At the same time, there are also certain rules and a specific protection of consumers with respect to package holidays and assisted travel arrangements.
Who is concerned
Any railway passenger using a passenger rail service holding a European licence for railway undertakings can claim these rights.
In the event of the death of a rail passenger, the possible heirs may also claim their rights to compensation.
The passenger must be in possession of:
- a non-open-ended ticket (the ticket must specify the departure time); or
- a travel card/season ticket for a regular service.
Failure to observe the traveller's rights
If the passenger feels their rights have been violated, they can submit a claim to the transport operator within one year of the incident. The rail transport operator then has:
- one month to respond, either accepting or rejecting the claim; and
- 3 months from receipt of the claim to submit their final response to the passenger.
Damaged luggage due to fault or negligence of the carrier
The operator must immediately draw up a report. The passenger then has one year to request compensation for the damage.
Loss of luggage
Luggage is considered lost 14 days after the scheduled date of delivery. The passenger concerned has one year to make their claim on this subject with the carrier.
Injury/death of a traveller
Injured passengers may claim damages within 3 years from the day after the date of the injury.
The beneficiaries of a person deceased on a train trip must report the death to the carrier within 12 months of being made aware of the death. The beneficiaries have 3 years to make a claim for damages. This period cannot exceed a total of 5 years from the day after the accident of the deceased traveller.
How to proceed
Obligation to provide information before and during the trip
Passengers must be informed of their rights by the rail transport operator in any of the official languages of the EU institutions at the time of the ticket sale.
The passenger receives adequate information throughout the journey:
- in a format accessible to all; and
- in the languages generally used by the transport operator.
Assistance to disabled persons or persons with reduced mobility
Refusal to board disabled persons or persons with reduced mobility
People with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility enjoy the same rights as all other citizens with respect to:
- free movement;
- freedom of choice; and
A disabled person or person with reduced mobility has the right to book and obtain a ticket, regardless of their disability or reduced mobility, except in the case of strictly necessary security reasons.
The disabled or disabled traveller does not have to pay a surcharge to the carrier because of their disability.
Obligation to assist disabled persons or persons with reduced mobility
The disabled traveller or traveller with reduced mobility must receive free assistance from:
- railway operators;
- train station managers;
- ticket vendors;
- tour operators.
The traveller with a disability or reduced mobility must inform the carrier of the need for assistance (special needs and services required) at least 48 hours in advance. Notification of the need for assistance may be made to the rail carrier, station manager, ticket vendor or tour operator. When the ticket is valid for several trips, one notification is sufficient.
The traveller must then go to a place indicated by the carrier inside or outside the station:
- either at a time determined in writing by the transport operator, which may not precede the specified departure time by more than 60 minutes; or
- if no time has been set, at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time, unless a shorter time frame was agreed upon.
Even if the traveller with a disability or reduced mobility has not made a notification, the rail carrier and the station manager must provide reasonable assistance to the passenger during the journey.
Cancellation or delay
In case of late arrival or departure, the traveller must be informed of:
- the situation as soon as this information is available;
- the estimated times of departure and arrival.
Depending on the case, and at the traveller's request, the railway operator states on the ticket:
- the delay;
- the impossibility of making a connection; or
- the cancellation of the planned journey.
If the carrier can expect the trip to be delayed by more than 60 minutes, the passenger can immediately choose between:
- a free re-routing to the final destination:
- under conditions comparable to those of the initial trip, and;
- as quickly as possible; or
- a free re-routing to the final destination:
- under comparable conditions of transport; and
- at a later date, at their convenience; or
- a reimbursement of the price of the ticket and, if necessary:
- free transport;
- as quickly as possible to the initial point of departure.
The passenger must be offered the same choice regardless of whether the trip is actually cancelled or delayed by more than 60 minutes.
Conditions of compensation
The passenger's ticket must be reimbursed in full during the month following the filing of the claim.
The passenger can agree to a repayment in the form of vouchers, but can also require a cash refund for:
- the unused segment(s) of the trip;
- the completed segment(s) of the trip, if the trip is no longer of interest given the initial travel plan.
With respect to a delayed service, the amount of compensation for the delay is calculated by taking into account the price actually paid by the traveller for said service.
Transport operators can set a minimum threshold below which no compensation is paid. This threshold cannot exceed EUR 4.
Passengers arriving late at their destination are entitled to compensation. This compensation is equivalent to:
- 25 % of the ticket price in the event of a delay of between 60 and 119 minutes;
- 50 % of the ticket price in the event of a delay of 120 minutes or more.
If the trip is a round trip, the compensation for delayed arrival, on either leg of the trip, is calculated in relation to half the price paid for the ticket.
Travellers can claim adequate compensation if they:
- have a transport card or a season ticket; and
- are the victim of recurrent delays or cancellations during the period of validity of the transport card or season ticket.
Similarly, the calculation of the amount of the compensation is in proportion to the total price paid in the event of a delay of the service offered in a transport contract providing for several successive trips.
Example: a traveller spent EUR 100 to make 4 trips. If the traveller suffered a delay or cancellation of one of the trips, he receives a refund of EUR 25.
The calculation of the duration of the delay does not take into account any delays which the railway operator can prove to have occurred outside the territory of the European Union.
The traveller is not compensated if the delay is caused by circumstances not connected with the railway undertaking.
Passenger cannot receive compensation if they:
- have an open-ended ticket (departure time not stated); or
- have been informed of the delay or cancellation before purchasing the ticket.
Similarly, no compensation is possible if the passenger is responsible for causing the delay or cancellation.
The carrier is liable to the traveller if the trip cannot continue on the same day due to:
- a cancellation; or
- a delay; or
- a missed connection.
The carrier's obligation to provide assistance does not apply if:
- the passenger is informed of the cancellation or delay before the purchase of the ticket or
- the passenger is responsible for causing the delay or cancellation.
In case of late arrival or departure delayed by more than 60 minutes, travellers receive, free of charge:
- reasonable meals and refreshments based on waiting time, whether on board the train or at the station, or if they can reasonably be delivered;
- accommodation at a hotel or elsewhere, as well as transportation between the station and the place of accommodation, if a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary or an additional stay is required, when it is materially possible;
- if the train is blocked on the track, the transport between the place where the train is located and the closest nearby station, the station of departure or the final destination of the trip, when it is physically possible.
The traveller may receive damages which include:
- reasonable accommodation costs; and
- reasonable expenses in order to inform to persons waiting for the traveller.
The disabled person or person with reduced mobility should expect to receive special attention in terms of assistance.
Loss or physical damage
Loss and damage of hand baggage and animals carried by the traveller
The traveller must watch his hand luggage and his animals himself. He is solely responsible for them.
Loss and damage concerning the luggage delivered by the carrier
The carrier may be liable for:
- late delivery of a passenger's luggage or other personal effects;
- total or partial loss; or
- this situation results from the passenger's fault;
- the baggage was not packed or was transported with a defective packaging;
- the baggage contained items not authorised for transport by train.
As soon as damage is discovered on the luggage as a result of the transport, the carrier must establish without delay and, if possible, in the presence of the passenger, a report to establish the damage. This report must indicate:
- the nature of the damage;
- the state of the object;
- in as far as possible, the extent of the damage, its cause and the moment it occurred.
Baggage is considered lost as of 14 days after the scheduled date of delivery.
If the lost baggage is found during the year following the request for delivery, the carrier must inform the owner of said baggage if their address is known or can be found. From the moment the owner has been informed of the retrieval of the lost baggage, the owner must claim back the baggage within 30 days in order to be able to recover it.
Loss and damage of mobility equipment
A disabled or mobility-impaired passenger is entitled to compensation corresponding to:
- the value of the mobility equipment or other specific equipment; or
- the repair costs for such equipment,
if the railway operator is responsible for:
- the loss; or
- total or partial damage.
Bodily injury or death
Any passenger who suffers injuries due to an accident on a train is entitled to compensation from the transport operator or the latter's insurance company.
Passengers are entitled to receive a advance payment from the transport operator to cover immediate needs in the event of injury or death. The advance payment must be in proportion to the prejudice.
In case of death of the traveller, the compensation must be paid out to the traveller's beneficiaries within 15 days. This initial advance payment can not be less than EUR 21,000 per deceased traveller.
For each death, the damages must also cover the expenses related to the death, in particular the costs for transporting of the body and for the funeral.
If, by the death of the traveller, persons to whom he had a maintenance obligation under the law no longer have support, said persons must also be compensated for this loss.
Dispute of liability
The passenger can engage the carrier's liability if the death or injury of a passenger is due to the carrier's negligence or fault.
On the other hand, if the carrier can prove that the bodily injury or death is due to the passenger's fault or negligence, his liability may be waived or mitigated.
The traveller or his rightful beneficiaries will not be able to engage the carrier's liability if the death or injury results from:
- the behaviour of a third party; or
- circumstances not connected with the railway undertaking.
Even if the railway undertaking disputes its liability with respect to the bodily injury suffered by the traveller using its services, the undertaking must make every reasonable effort to assist the traveller claiming compensation from third parties.
An initial advance payment does not constitute an acknowledgement of liability. The initial advance payment is not refundable, except where:
- the damage is the result of negligence or fault of the traveller; or
- the person who received the advance payment was not the one entitled to compensation.
Lodging a complaint
The passenger may submit a claim to the carrier if he considers that his rights have not been respected.
The railway undertaking must ensure that a complaint handling system is made available to travellers. At the time of receiving a complaint from a traveller, the carrier may demand the return of the ticket, the luggage registration voucher and the fare card.
Passengers who are not satisfied with the response to their claim from the transport operator or port terminal operator can file a complaint with the Verkéiersverbond. The Verkéiersverbond can issue a warning or an administrative fine to the railway undertaking.
The traveller concerned, or his rightful beneficiaries, may bring a legal action if they do not agree with the actions undertaken by the carrier with respect to their claim. Judicial proceedings, in this case, are subject to the laws and regulations of the State in which the damage occurred.