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Germany’s train strikes: What rights do you have as a passenger?

Germany's train strikes: What rights do you have as a passenger?
Commuters queue at a helpdesk of German rail operator Deutsche Bahn at Berlin's Hauptbahnhof main railway station on August 11th, 2021, as train drivers stage a strike. German train drivers went on strike over wages, dealing a blow to summer holidaymakers and adding to logistics and supply problems already plaguing the industry. Only one in four long-distance trains will be in service on August 11th and 12th. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP
After an initial strike in mid-August, members of Germany's GDL train drivers' union are striking again. So what exactly is happening and what are your rights as a passenger?

Members of Germany’s GDL train drivers’ union went on strike again on the afternoon of Saturday 21st August. Only freight trains were affected over the weekend, but with passenger trains being affected from Monday, millions of passengers will face train cancellations and delays in the first half of the week. This includes holidaying travellers as it’s still the school holiday period in ten of Germany’s 16 states.

According to information on German railway company Deutsche Bahn’s website, it’s still offering “a reliable basic service”.

However, the railway adds that “in this situation we cannot guarantee that all travellers will reach their destination”. 

READ ALSO: Rail passengers in Germany face disruption as two-day strike announced

And it recommends postponing, if possible, any planned long-distance journeys until after the strikes finish on Wednesday.

You can find the latest information on affected services here.

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See also on The Local:

If Deutsche Bahn are recommending postponing your journey, does that mean you can use your ticket on another date or a different train?

Yes. They say on their website that anyone who has booked a journey on the long-distance rail network between 23rd and 25th August on a route that’s affected by the strike can use their ticket flexibly any time from August 20th until September 4th.

And for saver and super-saver short and long-distance fares, you can use a different connecting train to what’s specified on your ticket during that period. 

You can change your seat reservation for free, too.  

If you’re using the local rail network, they say that if you already have a ticket you can use it straight away or up to and including 4th September, and you can use a different route if you need to.

But it’s not quite that simple for local train journeys: 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 a dearer ticket or pay a surcharge and then claim the costs back later. However, this doesn’t apply to heavily discounted tickets, such as ‘Länder’ tickets.

Can you get a refund on your ticket?

Yes, if trains are not cancelled but you decide not to travel during the strike period, you can apply for a refund here if you bought your ticket online or in the DB travel centre if you purchased it there or from a machine.

Your ticket price will also be completely reimbursed if the strike would make your planned train arrive at least 60 minutes late and you don’t have to actually take the train to get the refund.

Do you get compensation for delays if you travel?

You do. If the train is delayed at the destination station by 60 minutes, you’ll get 25 percent of the ticket price back for a single journey and 50 percent for a delay of 120 minutes or more. 

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

And if you have to interrupt your journey because of the strike and return to the station you started at, they’ll refund the unused portion of the journey. 

How is the compensation paid?

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

What about if you’ve got a monthly ticket?

If you have a monthly ticket or some other kind of season ticket, you’ll receive compensation for delays of more than 60 minutes. There’s a flat rate for this, though: five euros for long-distance second-class tickets and ten euros for Bahncard 100.

For ‘Länder’ and ‘Schönes-Wochenende’ tickets, it’s 1.50 euros.

However, they’ll only pay out for amounts above 4 euros, so you might need to stack up receipts from a few delays.

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Will the Bahn pay for taxis or hotel rooms?

There are two situations where Deutsche Bahn have to provide an alternative form of transport, German news website Tagesschau said: 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 a taxi.

If the railway 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 euros.

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 railway before looking for a hotel themselves, though.

Can you still take your bike with you on the strike days?
On its website, Deutsche Bahn asks passengers to not take their bikes with them on the strike days as long-distance services are expected to be very busy because of the reduced number of trains.

But if you’re travelling on the long-distance network and you’ve already bought a ticket with a bike ticket and reserved a bike spot in advance, you can get your bike shipped for free on the strike days by booking it online using ‘Fahrrad23’ as a code in the payment box.

However, this is only valid for ‘conventional’ bicycles, not for e-bikes, tandems and recumbent bicycles, etc.

Commuters stand in front of an information board reading “GDL strike! No rail traffic!” on a platform at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof main railway station on August 11th, 2021, as train drivers staged a strike. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Are Deutsche Bahn doing anything to avert further strikes?

Yes, they’ve offered a ‘Corona bonus’ which will be paid out this year, but the sum hasn’t been specified yet. Martin Seiler, Deutsche Bahn’s Chief Human Resources Officer said this meant there could “no longer be any reason [for GDL] to refuse to return the negotiating table,” Tagesschau reported.

READ ALSO: German train drivers call strike in escalating wage dispute

What are the union looking for?

GDL want a corona premium of 600 euros for their members, better working conditions and a wage increase of around 3.2 percent. 

What has Deutsche Bahn offered?

They’ve countered with a two-stage increase — 1.5 percent by January 1st, 2022 and 1.7 percent by March 1st, 2023, but GDL head Claus Weselsky has said this is not enough.


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