Rail passengers are entitled to a partial refund of the price of their train ticket in the event of significant delay, even where that delay is attributable to force majeure, as found recetly by the Court of Justice of the EU. Carriers cannot rely on rules of international law which exempt them in cases of force majeure from paying compensation for loss suffered as a result of delay to avoid their obligation to refund.
The regulation on rail passengers’ rights and obligations provides that a passenger facing a delay of an hour or more may request a partial reimbursement of the price paid for the ticket from the railway undertaking. The amount of that compensation is at least 25% of that price in the event of a delay of between 60 and 119 minutes and 50% in the event of a delay of 120 minutes or more. The regulation provides for no exception to that right to compensation where the delay is attributable to force majeure.
Against that background, the Verwaltungsgerichtshof (Administrative Court, Austria) has asked the Court of Justice whether a railway undertaking may be discharged from its obligation to pay compensation where the delay is attributable to force majeure. The Administrative Court is required to rule on an action brought by Austrian railway carrier ÖBB-Personenverkehr AG against the Austrian rail network control commission’s decision requiring it to delete from its general terms and conditions a provision which excluded any right to compensation in cases of force majeure.
In its judgment, the Court finds that the regulation itself does not exempt railway undertakings from the obligation to pay compensation where the delay is attributable to force majeure. And in circumstances stated in its press release, the Court finds that a railway undertaking may not include in its general terms and conditions of carriage a clause under which it is exempt from its obligation to pay compensation in the event of a delay where the delay is attributable to force majeure.