Rail passenger rights in the European Union
There are international laws which apply to the transport of passengers and freight by rail between countries. These laws have been in existence for decades and are known as the CIV and CIM Uniform Rules, and have been developed by the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF). Over 45 countries from Europe, Middle East and North Africa are members of OTIF.
The Uniform Rules are contained in the Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail (COTIF 1999) (pdf) and include rules regarding liability limits in the event of death or injury of a rail passenger, and loss or damage to luggage. The liability limits are set in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) which is a mix of currency values established by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The current value of an SDR in euro is available on the IMF's website.
COVID-19 (coronavirus) and travel rights
In December 2009 Regulation 1371/2007 on rail passenger rights and obligations came into force in the European Union. It strengthened the existing international laws mentioned above and extended them to domestic travel. It applies to railway operators that are licenced under Directive 95/18/EC on the licensing of railway undertakings.
The European Commission has provided an application for smartphones (pdf) which gives information on passenger rights including rail passengers.
Irish Rail has its own Passenger’s Charter which sets out the standards of service you can expect when using its services. It also deals with issues such as ticket refunds, compensation payments and its complaints procedure. While your rights under Irish Rail’s charter may be better in certain areas than under the EU Regulation, they have no legal status and cannot be enforced by the National Transport Authority (see ‘Complaints and enforcement’ below).
The National Transport Authority provides information on rail passenger rights in Ireland.
The following provisions of the Regulation apply to all rail passenger services, both domestic and international. A railway operator must:
- Make it easy for rail passengers to buy tickets
- Ensure passengers’ personal security in railway stations and on trains
- Provide compensation where the operator is liable for the death or injury of a passenger or the loss of or damage to luggage
- Have adequate insurance to cover its liabilities under the Regulation
- Ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against in accessing rail transport, including in stations and when reserving or purchasing tickets
- When requested to, provide information on the accessibility of rail services to people with disabilities
As these rights apply to both domestic and international rail services they can be enforced by the National Transport Authority in relation to all Irish Rail passenger services.
Transition period exemption for domestic services
A member state can grant an exemption to domestic rail passenger services from the remaining provisions of the Regulation for up to 5 years. The exemption can be renewed twice for a further 5 years each time. International rail passenger services cannot be exempted from any of the Regulation’s provisions, unless they start or finish their journey outside the EU. Irish Rail has availed of this exemption for its domestic services. A list of the exemptions each member state has granted is available here (pdf).
The following information covers passenger rights under the Regulation’s provisions, some of which are mandatory and cannot be subject to an exemption.
If this non-mandatory provision applies, you are to be provided with pre-journey information, such as:
- The general conditions applicable to the contract
- The timetables and the conditions for the fastest trip and for the lowest fares
- Information on any activities that likely to disrupt or delay services
- The availability of on-board services
- The procedures for reclaiming lost luggage and for the submission of complaints
As well as being provided with information before a journey, you must also be provided during the journey with information concerning such matters as on-board services, the next station, delays, the main connecting services, security and safety.
It is mandatory that tickets are available to passengers through at least one of the following points of sale:
- Ticket offices or ticket machines at all main railway stations
- Telephone, Internet or any other widely available information technology
- On board trains
Where there is no ticket office or ticket machine at a station, information should be provided at the station about where and how tickets can be bought.
Liability for passengers and luggage
Liability for passengers and luggage is also one of the mandatory provisions. Under this provision, you (or your dependants) are entitled to compensation in the event of your death or bodily injury (physical or mental), whether the accident took place when you were on the train or while you were boarding or leaving the train.
Where the railway operator is liable for the accident, they are also liable for the total or partial loss of or damage to personal effects and hand luggage carried by you, up to an amount set by the Regulation. This also applies to animals brought by you. However, the railway operator is not liable for property which the passenger is responsible for supervising, unless the loss or damage is caused by the fault of the railway operator.
You have a right to compensation if your registered luggage is lost or damaged unless it was due to an error on your part or circumstances beyond the control of the operator. You can consider an item of registered luggage to be lost when it has not been delivered within 14 days of the date it was due to be delivered. Damages of up to 1,300 SDRs per item of registered luggage may be claimed.
When there is a delay in the delivery of an item of registered luggage, the railway operator must pay compensation for each day it is late, up to a maximum of 14 days. The maximum compensation payable is 14 SDRs per day.
If this non-mandatory provision applies, the railway operator must make an advanced payment to cover the immediate costs of death or injury as the result of the accident and the payment must be made within 15 days. In the event of your death the advanced payment must be at least €21,000.
An advance payment does not constitute recognition of liability and may be offset against any subsequent sums that are paid. However, where a railway operator does contest liability, it must make every reasonable effort to help you claim compensation from a third party.
Delays and cancellations
The provisions in relation to delays and cancellations are not mandatory and may only apply to international rail services.
Where you will be delayed more than 60 minutes due to a delayed or cancelled train, you have a right to choose between one of the following:
- Repayment of the full cost of the ticket for the part or parts of your journey not made and for the part or parts already made if the journey is no longer serving any purpose and, if relevant, a return service to the first point of departure at the earliest opportunity
- Continuation or re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to your final destination at the earliest opportunity
- Continuation or re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to your final destination at a later date at your convenience
Where you will be delayed more than 60 minutes and you have not chosen a refund of the cost of your ticket as mentioned above, you may claim compensation as follows:
- 25 % of the ticket price for a delay of 60 to 119 minutes
- 50 % of the ticket price for a delay of 120 minutes or more
The compensation must be paid within one month. It may be paid in vouchers or other services, but must be paid in cash if you request it. You have no right to compensation if you were informed of the delay before buying your ticket.
The railway operator is not liable for damages if the cancellation, late running or missed connection is attributable to circumstances not connected with the operation of the railway or to the behaviour of a third party, neither of which the railway operator could avoid, or is due to a fault on the part of the passenger.
While you are waiting
If a train is cancelled or delayed, you have the right to adequate information about what is happening while you are waiting. If you are delayed more than 60 minutes, you have a right to:
- Meals and refreshments in reasonable relation to the waiting time
- Hotel or other accommodation, and transport between the railway station and place of accommodation, where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary
- Alternative transport if the train is blocked on the track
People with disabilities
It is mandatory that people with disabilities and those with reduced mobility have the right to obtain a ticket and a reservation for any rail journey in the same way as other passengers and at no extra cost. When requested to railway operators, ticket vendors or tour operators must provide such passengers with information on the accessibility of railway services regarding stations, platforms, trains and other facilities.
Under the non-mandatory provisions, if you are refused a ticket or a reservation, or you are required to be accompanied because of access rules, you must be provided, on request, with the reasons for doing so in writing within 5 working days.
Assistance to people with disabilities
If the non-mandatory provision on assistance to people with disabilities applies, you must be provided with assistance at staffed railway stations in relation to boarding, changing to a connecting service, and disembarking. Similarly, assistance must be provided on board or when embarking or disembarking.
The assistance must be free of charge. You must notify the railway operator, ticket vendor or tour operator from whom you buy your ticket of your need for assistance at least 48 hours before it is needed. You must arrive at the station at the time you are asked to, but no more than 60 minutes before the departure or check-in time. If no arrival time is mentioned, you should arrive 30 minutes in advance.
Where this non-mandatory provision applies, if your mobility equipment or other specific equipment used by you is lost, partially lost or damaged, and the railway operator is liable, there is no limit on the compensation that can be claimed.
Complaints and enforcement
Railway operators are required to set up a complaints handling mechanism to help passengers who are trying to avail of their rights under this Regulation. Information on to whom a complaint can be submitted and what language can be used should be easily available to passengers. If you make a complaint you should receive a reply within 1 month. Railway operators must publish the number of complaints they receive. Information on Irish Rail’s complaint’s handling system is available on its website.
Every member state must designate a body responsible for the enforcement of this Regulation. The National Transport Authority is the designated enforcement body (pdf) in Ireland. If you are dissatisfied with an Irish railway operator’s decision and your rights under the Regulation have been denied or you did not receive a reply within 1 month of making the complaint, you can make a complaint to the National Transport Authority. Information on making a complaint is available on its website.