Thursday, December 3, 2009

Not there yet...but getting there??

Today December 3rd the EU Rail Passenger Rights Regulations comes into force....well sort of. The new regulations give rail passengers new rights similar to those which apply for air travel. Train passengers will be entitled to compensation in cases where they are delayed, for example a 25% refund if the delay is between 60 and 119 minutes and a 50% refund if the delay is at least 120 minutes. There are a number of measures which are aimed at assisting people with disabilities and passengers with limited mobility. Also rail operators are required to set up formal complaints mechanisms and each member state is supposed to have a National Enforcement Body to monitor implementation of the regulation.

In theory its great that rail passengers finally have more rights, especially when they are messed around by operators. Indeed the European Commission gets all excited telling us about the brave new world for rail passengers and about how they "will from now on enjoy new rights that will protect them and their belongings when they travel by train anywhere within the European Union". Well not quite. I was aware from briefings by the European Passenger Federation that many member states were seeking derogations (nice word for a get out card!) from the regulations. In particular many member states wanted these regulations to apply solely to international traains and not domestic ones. It seems there was a bun-fight over this in 2007 and the compromise reached between the member states, Commission and Parliament was that it would apply to domestic trains, however member states could seek derogations of up to 15 years for domestic trains. The reality for Irish consumers is that these regulations are of little use if they don't apply to domestic journeys, except when travelling to Belfast or on a cross border train journey on the continent.

New Irish Rail zig-zag route....I am getting dizzy thinking about it :-)

Anyway I contacted the Department of Transport and yes the Irish Government has exempted domestic inter-city trains "pending conclusion of discussions with Irish Rail regarding issues of its implementation on Irish Rail inter-city services." That in effect means as far as I know that the regulations only apply to the Dublin-Belfast line, although I stand to be corrected, perhaps that is exempted as well. The Department did inform me that some of the regulations do apply to all rail services immediately (Articles 9, 11, 12, 19, 20(1) and26) , however apart from making provision for passengers with disabilities all the other regulations coming into force are very basic things that Irish Rail are doing anyway and won't make all that much difference.

I will try and get some more clarity on this issue in the coming weeks. It would appear unfair that the Government expects airlines to implement the EU regulations on air passenger rights, but absolves Irish Rail from their responsibilities to rail passengers. Hopefully these exemptions are short term and we won't have to wait 15 years for these the old Irish Rail advert goes...."We are not there yet....but we are getting there"...well I hope so.