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TRAIN TRAVEL

What are my rights if a train is delayed or cancelled in Germany?

Experiencing delays and disruptions on the German rail network isn't uncommon, but not everyone is clued up on their passenger rights. We look at when you can claim compensation - and how much you could be entitled to.

Train cancellations Essen
A "train cancelled" notice appears on a sign at Essen Hauptbahnhof. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roland Weihrauch

According to the latest Deutsche Bahn statistics, one in four long-distance trains arrived at their destination late last year. While passengers on regional transport fared slightly better, more than one in twenty trains on the regional network also experienced delays.

While minor travel delays are a fact of life, more severe disruptions can ruin day trips, weekends away and visits to see family and friends. And when major incidents like national strikes and rail accidents occur, travel can become near impossible.

So, what do you do when you’re faced with a “Zug verspätet” (train delayed) sign – or, even worse, the dreaded “Zug fällt aus” (train cancelled) notification?

In most cases, you have a number of options. Here’s a rundown of the most important passenger rights you should know about and some tips for claiming compensation. 

What rights do I have if my train is delayed?

If you arrive at your destination more than an hour late, you should be entitled to compensation.

Delays of 60 minutes or more will get you a 25 percent refund on a single journey, while delays of 120 minutes or more will get you 50 percent of your money back. The price of a single ticket is calculated as half of your return ticket price. 

So if, for example, you’ve booked a return ticket for €80, you’ll get €10 compensation if the train’s delayed by at least 60 minutes on one of the journeys.

For season-ticket holders, like those with a weekly or monthly ticket or a Bahncard 100, Deutsche Bahn offers a lump sum per delay:

  • In regional and local transport: €1.50 (2nd class), €2.25 (1st class)
  • In long-distance transport: €5 (2nd class), €7.50 (1st class)
  • BahnCard 100: €10 (2nd class), €15 (1st class)

However, it’s important to note that DB doesn’t pay out claims of less than €4, so people with a local or regional season ticket will have to make several claims at once. 

Refunds are also capped at 25 percent of the price of your season ticket or pass, so if you experience numerous delays, you may not get a refund for all of them. 

READ ALSO: ‘Deutschlandticket’: What you need to know about Germany’s new €49 travel ticket

Can I choose to take an alternative route?

If you train is delayed by more than 20 minutes, you’re well within your rights to seek out an alternative route to your destination or travel at a later time in the day. 

However, if you take a more expensive long-distance train, such as the ICE instead of the RE regional train, to complete your journey, you’ll need to first buy the more expensive ticket or pay a surcharge and then claim the costs back later. Note that this doesn’t apply to heavily discounted tickets, such as ‘Länder’ or ‘Schönes Wochenende’ tickets.

In some cases – like rail strikes – Deutsche Bahn will recommend travelling at a later date. This usually gives you the option to delay your journey by a week or so and travel on any train that doesn’t require a reservation until a certain date. This is usually only done in exceptional situations though, so it’s best to check with Deutsche Bahn before deciding to push your journey back. 

What happens if I decide not to travel?

In certain circumstances, you’ll be able to get a full refund for your journey if you choose not to travel.

If there’s more than a 60-minute delay on your route or your train is cancelled, you can abandon your journey and get your entire ticket price refunded. If you’re halfway through your journey and decide not to continue with it, simply return to the station you started at for a full refund. 

If you decide to only travel part of the way to your destination, you can get a refund for the stretch of the route you didn’t take. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Germany

Are there different rules for international train journeys?

Generally, no, but it all depends on how you booked the tickets – and who from. On its website, Deutsche Bahn says that any tickets issued by them – including for international destinations – are eligible for compensation. 

In most cases, the same rules apply to international travel as they do to domestic travel. That means delays of 60 minutes or more entitle you to a 25 percent refund, while delays of 120 minutes or more entitle you to a 50 percent discount. 

Hamburg Central Station

Intercity trains wait on the platform at Hamburg Central Station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bodo Marks

Once again, if one part of a return journey is affected, you’ll receive 25 or 50 percent of half of the ticket price, which works out at 12.5 or 25 percent respectively. 

The rules are slightly different for people using a rail pass. Passengers travelling with a German Rail Pass are entitled to €5 (2nd class) or €7.50 (1st class) per delay, providing they’ve experienced at least three delays of 60 minutes or more since purchasing the pass.

Passengers travelling with an Interrail Germany Pass are entitled to €10 per delay, provided they’ve experienced at least two delays of 60 minutes or more while using the ticket. 

If you didn’t buy your ticket through Deutsche Bahn, you’ll need to contact your ticket vendor for compensation instead. 

READ ALSO: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

Will Deutsche Bahn pay for taxis and overnight accommodation? 

There are two situations where Deutsche Bahn has to provide an alternative form of transport: if the scheduled arrival time is between midnight and 5 am and the expected delay at the destination station is at least 60 minutes, or if the last scheduled connection of the day is cancelled and it’s no longer possible to reach the destination station by midnight without taking a bus or taxi.

If the firm doesn’t do this — if it’s the middle of the night, for example — you can get a taxi yourself and then get the railway to reimburse the costs, up to a maximum of €80.

If a train is cancelled or delays mean it’s no longer possible or reasonable to continue the journey that day, the railway has to provide customers with overnight accommodation or reimburse “reasonable accommodation costs” later.

If offered, passengers have to use the accommodation offered by the DB before looking for a hotel themselves, though.

Region al train in Magdeburg

A regional train pulls in to Magdeburg station at night. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Peter Gercke

What’s the best way to claim compensation?

Since June 2021, customers who experience delays have been able to submit their claim via the DB Navigator app in a few clicks.

Alternatively, you can submit an online claims form. Full instructions on how to do this can be found on the Deutsche Bahn website here

READ ALSO: Delayed train? Germany’s Deutsche Bahn to give online refunds for first time

How is compensation paid out? 

You can choose whether you’d like a voucher or the money back.  

What type of rail transport do these rules apply to? 

You can claim refunds or compensation for delayed or cancelled journeys on any Deutsche Bahn passenger services, including long-distance trains, regional trains and local S-Bahn trains.

Germany’s passenger rights regulations also apply to other service providers such as FlixTrain, who provide a full rundown of their policies here

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TRAVEL NEWS

UPDATE: When will Germany’s €49 ticket start?

Germany announced a €49 monthly ticket for local and regional public transport earlier this month, but the hoped-for launch date of January 2023 looks increasingly unlikely.

UPDATE: When will Germany's €49 ticket start?

Following the popularity of the €9 train ticket over the summer, the German federal and state governments finally agreed on a successor offer at the beginning of November.

The travel card – dubbed the “Deutschlandticket” – will cost €49 and enable people to travel on regional trains, trams and buses up and down the country.

There had been hopes that the discount travel offer would start up in January 2023, but that now seems very unlikely.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

Martin Burkert, Head of the German Rail and Transport Union (EVG) now expects the €49 ticket to be introduced in the spring.

“From our point of view, it seems realistic to introduce the Deutschlandticket on April 1st, because some implementation issues are still unresolved”, Burkert told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland on Monday. The Association of German Transport Companies, on the other hand, said on Wednesday that they believe the beginning of May will be a more realistic start date.

The federal and state transport ministers have set their sights on an April deadline, but this depends on whether funding and technical issues can be sorted out by then. In short, the only thing that seems clear regarding the start date is that it will be launched at some point in 2023. 

Why the delay?

Financing for the ticket continues to cause disagreements between the federal and state governments and, from the point of view of the transport companies, financing issues are also still open.

The federal government has agreed to stump up €1.5 billion for the new ticket, which the states will match out of their own budgets. That brings the total funding for the offer up to €3 billion. 

But according to Bremen’s transport minister Maike Schaefer, the actual cost of the ticket is likely to be closer to €4.7 billion – especially during the initial implementation phase – leaving a €1.7 billion hole in finances.

Transport companies are concerned that it will fall to them to take the financial hit if the government doesn’t provide enough funding. They say this will be impossible for them to shoulder. 

Burkert from EVG is calling on the federal government to provide more than the €1.5 billion originally earmarked for the ticket if necessary.

“Six months after the launch of the Deutschlandticket at the latest, the federal government must evaluate the costs incurred to date with the states and, if necessary, provide additional funding,” he said. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn has warned that the network is not prepared to cope with extra demand. 

Berthold Huber, the member of the Deutsche Bahn Board of Management responsible for infrastructure, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that a big part of the problem is the network is “structurally outdated” and its “susceptibility to faults is increasing.” 

Accordingly, Huber said that there is currently “no room for additional trains in regional traffic around the major hub stations” and, while adding more seats on trains could be a short terms solution, “here, too, you run up against limits,” Huber said.

So, what now? 

Well, it seems that the federal states are happy to pay half of whatever the ticket actually costs – but so far, the federal government has been slow to make the same offer.

With the two crucial ministries – the Finance Ministry and the Transport Ministry – headed up by politicians from the liberal FDP, environment groups are accusing the party of blocking the ticket by proxy. 

According to Jürgen Resch, the director of German Environment Aid, Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Transport Minister Volker Wissing are deliberately withholding the necessary financial support for the states.

Wissing has also come under fire from the opposition CDU/CSU parties after failing to turn up to a transport committee meeting on Wednesday. 

The conservatives had narrowly failed in a motion to summon the minister to the meeting and demand a report on the progress of the €49 ticket.

“The members of the Bundestag have many unanswered questions and time is pressing,” said CDU transport politician Thomas Bareiß, adding that the ticket had falling victim to a “false start”. 

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