EU rules on rail delay compensation
The European Union's top court said railway operators have to pay compensation to passengers for delays even if the cause of the delay is beyond the company's control.
The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that Austrian railway operator OBB's policy exempting it from paying compensation for delays caused by acts of nature such as bad weather is invalid.
The court said compensation to passengers must be paid just the same as delays caused by the firm's own operations. Under EU rules, railway operators must reimburse a quarter of the ticket price for delays of up to two hours, and 50% for longer delays.
Train travel is a major form of transportation in Europe. Germany's railway operator Deutsche Bahn alone carries two billion passengers per year.
The ruling will not have an immediate financial effect on Austria's OBB since it had already started paying compensation in 2011 when it had been ordered by its regulator to do so, spokeswoman Sarah Nettel said.
Other European railway firms, however, have until now been invoking reasons beyond their control such as adverse weather to avoid paying compensation.
Germany's Deutsche Bahn, which has annual revenues of about 40 billion euro (£33 billion), said it welcomed the decision because it established legal certainty. The company claimed it had only rarely invoked force majeure to avoid compensation payments.
Consumer advocacy groups cheered the ruling.
"For passengers, it's the delay that counts, not the carrier's attempt seeking to avoid his legal duty to pay compensation," said Gerd Aschoff, spokesman for the German railway passenger association Pro Bahn.
The railway operator in the EU's second-largest economy, France's SNCF, did not immediately return requests for comment. SNCF, with revenues of about 34 billion euro (£28 billion), says it ferries about four million passengers per day through France.
The court also clarified that railway firms are not liable for passengers' losses due to train delays, only partial reimbursements of their ticket.