What to do when the trains leave you stranded
I am back at home! And never been more happy to be home! This is a Europe/Germany-specific post, as we have had the second major episode of widespread train disruption (nearly half the country) within four weeks thanks to weather here in Germany, and this time, I was well caught in it.
I’ll post this without pictures because I didn’t have a free hand with my case and laptop bag, and coffee and pretzels while winding my way to the end of the platform, and neither did I think it would benefit the general mood in the train stations and honestly, no one needs a pretty picture of a German train here right now… so, rather amateurishly, I put in a bit of colour by way of some shots from rail travel in India and Japan, two countries with extensive well-functioning rail systems… and where I keep thinking they would have found a way (Japan only stops its Shinkansen in case of major earthquakes” to get people home rather than just to scrap trains and let leave people stranded. I know its for security reasons… but that is no excuse for the poor information provision and communication.
Returning from a training course, I’d heard the wind howling in my little room in the hilltop hotel in Southern Germany, and checked the weather warnings and the German train (Deutsche Bahn or DB) website, early in the morning. At 8am the it appeared from the DB website that trains to Berlin (near where I live) would not run, and it was promised to update us hourly. At some point in the afternoon all trains in a major station in Southern Germany appeared to be running (at least on departure display). Only once on the train, we were told, this train would terminate soon because of the weather. By then, the weather looked ok and there were already hundreds if not thousands of people accumulating in stations. Thanks to storm “Herwart” I managed to catch up with two old friends on the way, and when, eventually, the DB decided to update their information that no trains would be running to Berlin and other destination tonight, it was one of them who kindly hosted me for the night. The next morning, I was lucky enough to get on an already crowded train – so crowded people were sitting on the floor everywhere and you really squeezed in so you didn’t need to go on the climb to the toilet, and finally, over twelve hours later than intended, I am back home.
I did not see any buses to replace trains, no extra shelter, no one offered food or drinks let alone help you find somewhere to stay when you are stranded so I think it’s time to be a bit more vocal about it. No one really told us what your rights are, or where you can find food, information and shelter, information desks and ticket offices were hopelessly overrun, and any DB Staff nearly mobbed (there was not nearly enough staff) so I feel this was really badly managed to a company that prides itself of being so advanced in a country that prides itself in being advanced and civilised – but enough ranting, here’s some facts:
So, what to do if you are left stranded by your rail company? The good thing is that rail travel and passengers right are covered by EU Law (link in German) and theoretically go for all EU countries.
If your train is more than 20 minutes delayed, you can use another train, no matter if its a more “expensive” train – but if you travel 2nd class you must stay in that class. Allegedly you need to purchase another ticket first though I would find this extremely difficult when the ticket office is already mobbed by the stranded and internet access on trains is pretty rubbish.
If your train is over 60 minutes late, you are additionally entitled to a refund of 25% of the ticket, 50% if your train is over 2 hours late.
If you are left stranded, you are entitled to compensation in form of a taxi (up to 80 EURO) and/ or a hotel room (couldn’t find an upper limit on my research, but checking into the Four Seasons when you normally travel Second Class on a SuperSaver ticket might be somewhat inappropriate). I found that yesterday afternoon, by the time it transpired to the conductor of our train that all trains are cancelled north of Kassel-Wilhelmshoehe, a quick scan on hotel websites showed plenty rooms at moderate prices, so it might be worth that if you are likely to be stranded, to try booking a hotel room online immediately using an app that doesn’t need much data or fiddling with credit cards.
The “proper” procedure is to get a conductor to confirm on your ticket the delay/cancellation, though it is possible to get a refund/compensation without doing so (imagine there is a bit of a run at any DB official in case of mass train cancellations and India-style crowding on trains.
You will need to complete a Fahrgastrechteformular which you get online or at the ticket office of the train station. Theoretically, you should get a refund right away if you go there and complete it there and then but expect a little more traffic than usual…
Here is also a website (in German) that I found helpful.
Finally: Air Passenger Rights (in Europe) are different, so check you find that one form and get at least some of your money back!
Have you been caught up in major rail disruption, or specifically, in the one caused by “Herwart”? I hope you are safely back home, and that it did not cause too much distress!