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Progress towards recast Regulations to strengthen rail passengers' rights

  • United Kingdom
  • Transport

22-01-2020

On 2 December 2019, the European Council agreed to update Regulation 1371/2007 (the “Regulation”) on rail passengers’ rights and obligations. The proposed amendments to the Regulation aim to strengthen the rights of passengers where there are delays and cancellations, improve assistance for passengers with reduced mobility and encourage more through-ticket offers. In addition, the proposal introduces a force majeure provision to help create a level playing field between transport modes. The Council’s hope is that this will promote smoother and more sustainable mobility across Europe1.

Regulation 1371/2007

The Regulation, which came into force at the end of 2009, seeks to protect rail passengers’ rights and improve the quality and effectiveness of rail passenger services across the EU by ensuring a standardised level of service and protection for all, particularly where travel is disrupted. In particular, the Regulation aims to strengthen the rights of rail passengers in the areas of: information and ticketing provision, compensation and assistance for disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility. It also contains provision for the enforcement of such rights.

The Regulation applies to all rail passenger services (international, domestic, regional, urban and suburban) within the EU which are licenced in accordance with Directive 95/18/EC. Member States may apply transitional periods and exemptions to certain services, including to some urban, suburban and regional services.

Further detail regarding the implementation and enforcement of the Regulation can be found here.

A review of the Regulation has been envisaged since 2013, when the Commission highlighted a lack of implementation by enforcement bodies and the opportunities to strengthen passenger rights by amending the legislation2. In September 2017, the Commission presented a new proposal to address these shortcomings and to strike a new balance between keeping rail operators competitive and providing adequate passenger protection3. The European Parliament has welcomed the proposal and, following discussion, amendments were adopted4. The European Council has now agreed these proposed updates to the Regulation.

Amendments agreed by the Council

The general approach agreed by the Council includes the following changes5:

Clearer rules and responsibilities regarding the provision of rail services for people with disabilities or reduced mobility, including relating to:

- information on how to purchase a ticket where there are no accessible means to do so;

- information regarding the nearest staffed stations and directly available assistance where there are unstaffed stations; and

- the rights of personal assistants accompanying persons with disabilities or reduced mobility.

Revised wording strengthens the requirement on operators to provide passengers with information about their rights. For example, where it is not feasible to include a summary of passengers’ rights on tickets, passengers must be informed of these rights by other means.

The revisions also clarify the position for rail companies faced with force majeure events. Passengers will have no rights to compensation for delays or cancellations caused by circumstances which rail companies could not have avoided, e.g., extreme weather conditions, major natural disasters, persons on the track or fault on the part of the passenger. However, rail staff strikes and acts or omissions by another rail company using the same infrastructure will not be considered a force majeure event, and therefore train operators will continue to be liable to compensate passengers where such incidents cause delays or cancellations.

The amended text places greater obligations on rail companies to offer through-tickets. It introduces a requirement that passengers be informed prior to purchase as to whether the tickets being purchased are through-tickets. The text also clarifies rail companies' and ticket vendors' responsibilities and liabilities in cases where tickets are purchased in a single transaction and the passenger misses a connection.

There is also the inclusion of more detailed provisions for passengers using bicycles, including the provision of information about availability of spaces and reservations for bicycles aimed to encourage the combined use of railways and bicycles by passengers.

The text also sets out more detailed complaint-handling procedures and deadlines to improve passengers’ abilities to enforce their rights, although it is worth noting that the Council did not include increases in compensation for delays, which had been proposed by the European Parliament6.

The UK context and Brexit

The Regulation has direct effect and applicability in the UK but related domestic regulations (being: (i) the Rail Passengers’ Rights and Obligations Regulations 2010; (ii) the Rail Passengers’ Rights and Obligations (Exemptions) Regulations 2014; and (iii) the Rail Passengers Rights and Obligations (Designation and Enforcement) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 (the “Domestic Regulations”)) have also been introduced over time, including for the purposes of designating UK enforcement bodies and to exempt Great Britain's domestic railways from all “non-core” Articles in the Regulation7. “Non-core” Articles cover areas including provision of travel information, carrying bicycles, compensation for delays, complaints handling and service quality standards, whilst “core” Articles cover availability of tickets, through-ticketing, insurance and rights for passengers with reduced mobility8.

The Rail Passengers’ Rights and Obligations (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 (SI 2018/1165) (the “SI”)9 will, with effect from expiry of the transition period10, amend the Domestic Regulations and the Regulation (by virtue of its status following exit day as retained direct EU legislation)11 to allow them to operate effectively following the end of the transition period, e.g., by removing obligations to report matters to the Commission and references to “Member States”. No changes are to be made to the policy objectives, passenger rights or the way the Regulation is implemented and enforced in the UK12. However, the power to make exemptions from the Regulation, that the UK has so far utilised, will not be transferred by the SI and so will not be available to the UK following expiry of the transition period.

In terms of the proposed recast of the Regulation, whether or not this will have direct effect in the UK will depend on when such recast Regulation comes into force. During the transition period commencing on exit day (and ending, under the current arrangements, on 31 December 2020), the UK will remain subject to EU law13. Accordingly, if the recast Regulation comes into force during this period, it will have direct effect in the UK and will (subject to any other agreement reached with the EU) be retained in domestic law following the end of the transition period under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. If the recast Regulation comes into force after expiry of the transition period, it will be for the Government to determine whether it wishes to amend the retained domestic legislation so as to bring it into line with the recast Regulation as it applies to the remaining member states of the EU.

Conclusion

The proposed amendments to the Regulation strengthen consumer rights and aim to establish a more consistent quality of service across member states of the EU. Now that the Council has agreed the general approach, the Council and the European Parliament will negotiate the final wording of the new rules. This latest milestone marks significant progress towards a recast Regulation 1371/2007. As noted above, the impact which the proposed recast of the Regulation will have in the UK, once implemented, remains to be seen in the context of Brexit.


1. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/12/02/rail-passenger-rights-council-agrees-its-position-on-updated-rules/

2. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/resource.html?uri=cellar:09b46d53-0897-11e3-a352-01aa75ed71a1.0001.01/DOC_1&format=PDF

3. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2018/621909/EPRS_BRI(2018)621909_EN.pdf

4. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20181106IPR18319/meps-vote-for-upgrade-to-rail-passenger-rights

5. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/12/02/rail-passenger-rights-council-agrees-its-position-on-updated-rules/

6. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20181106IPR18319/meps-vote-for-upgrade-to-rail-passenger-rights and https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/12/02/rail-passenger-rights-council-agrees-its-position-on-updated-rules/ and https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-14047-2019-INIT/en/pdf

7. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5bbe01c940f0b63873bce800/final_EM.pdf

8. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/480630/passengers_rights_responsibilities_summary_responses.pdf

9. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/1165/made

10. By virtue of clause 25 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill 2019-20

11. Exit day being 31 January 2020 at 11pm

12. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5bbe01c940f0b63873bce800/final_EM.pdf

13. https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/brexit-transition-period

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