“Seamless Rail Travel and Passenger Rights” – an AERA Project

 

In order to encourage people contemplating a rail journey to or within Europe, it is important to be able to assure them that their experience will be as seamless as possible. An AERA sub-Committee has been set up to identify possible problem areas, and to work with the railways to ensure that a disrupted passenger is properly looked after, and to remind them of their obligations and the possible sanctions should they not do so. 

 

40 years ago, a journey to Europe from the UK would start with a “boat train” from London’s Victoria or Liverpool Street station, then a ferry from one of the South Coast ports to France, or from Harwich, to Holland; then by train again to your destination. Not only were all the European railways then State-run, but there were many “through” trains – and “through carriages” – serving a wide range of destinations, meaning – for example – that you could get into your seat with your luggage at Calais or Hook of Holland, and get out in Milan, Madrid  or Moscow without having to change trains en route. And your entire journey would be covered by a single ticket (or a book of tickets).

 

Now, 40 years later, the international railway scene has changed dramatically, and not always for the better. True, speeds have increased, but Europe’s railway geography is more fragmented, with many private companies entering the marketplace. Through trains and carriages are a thing of the past, whilst the advent in 1994 of Eurostar – the passenger train that runs through the Channel Tunnel – has eclipsed boat trains and the ferries that connected with them (which were also owned by the railway companies).

Instead, on a journey from – say – London to Warsaw, in Poland, you will travel from London to Brussels by Eurostar; from Brussels to Cologne (Koln) by “Thalys”; from Cologne to Berlin by a German “ICE” (Inter-City Express); and then, after an overnight in Berlin, by an “EC” (“EuroCity” Berlin – Warsaw Express) to your final destination. 

Now, in the past, you had a basic Travel Ticket from (say) London, to Warsaw – different “coupons” for each stage of the journey, all stapled together in a cover making up a single travel document which was valid for 2 months. 

This didn’t include seat, couchette or sleeper reservations – those were separate – a seat reservation cost approximately £3, a couchette £14, a sleeper anything from around £20 to over £100 depending on whether you had a shared sleeper compartment or a single – but the point is that, if you missed your train, the value of your seat etc. reservation was lost, but your basic travel ticket remained valid because it was good for 2 months. 

Nowadays, with something called “yield management” (a concept for which we can thank the airlines) your reservation is combined with your travel ticket and therefore good only for that particular train, on that particular date – so if you miss your train, you lose the bloody lot!

 

However, if you miss your booked train because of late running of the train on the preceding section of your journey, the railway company is obliged – under the terms of the “CIV” – the International Convention on the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage, to which all the European railways are signed up – to accommodate you on the next available service, provided your ticket has been endorsed by the Train Conductor or other official of the late running service, and/or – since these trains are most likely to be “high speed” trains all of which are members of a loose association known as “Railteam” – you get the ticket endorsed with a Railteam stamp by the ticket office at the station where your missed train started. 

 

Unfortunately, many railway staff are unaware of this important facet of Passenger Rights, or pretend to be unaware of this, and seek to try to make you buy a new ticket.

As the representatives of travel agents and tour operators who provide the vast majority of passengers from the UK, undertaking rail journeys to or within Europe, AERA has a responsibility to work closely with the rail companies, to help them, where necessary, understand their obligations under the terms of CIV; to identify those operators who routinely fail to meet those obligations, and in the last resort, to ensure the enforcement of those rules by the appropriate authorities. 

 

AERA’s mission statement is “supporting rail travel worldwide” and so the last thing we want to see, is passenger traffic lost to road or air transport – and we believe that the rail companies agree.

 

The other way in which a passenger’s journey can be far from seamless, is because trains simply do not connect – not because of late running, but because the timetable has thoughtlessly been created that way. It is because of the privatisation and fragmentation of the European railway network, that each train operator is mainly interested only in what goes on on its own piece of railway, and is often oblivious of what is happening outside its own borders. 

 

The result can be that a train arrives at a point just minutes after another train has left which, if it were retimed by just those few minutes, could form a swift connection to enable a passenger to continue his journey. But in fact, because the timetable has been created without taking that into consideration, the unfortunate passenger faces a wait of some hours before the next train onward towards his destination. 

 

This can even happen within one country – in Poland, for example, the trains from the country’s third city, Lodz, arrive at Kutno just minutes after the EuroCity Warsaw – Berlin Express has departed, and this happens several times a day! There is no obvious compelling reason why the cross-country trains that connect Lodz with Kutno and v.v. could not be retimed in order to make these connections, because there are no direct connections anywhere else along their route. 

 

Again, AERA is in a unique position to advise the rail companies on matters of timetabling – the latter do not see the lost traffic, because they do not have it because their connections deter potential passengers; AERA, however, representing the providers of such traffic, can see the bigger picture, and is very willing to share its research with the rail companies so that they, in turn, can benefit from what would undoubtedly be increased traffic.