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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.