EXPLAINED: How to get compensation for delayed or cancelled trains in Germany

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Deutsche Bahn employees are on the verge of going on strike for higher wages in March, meaning that there could well be train delays and cancellations on both local and long-distance routes.

Here’s how to receive compensation – or a full refund – and what your rights are if you miss an important connection, or arrive on the job late due to an event outside of your control.

READ ALSO: Will Deutsche Bahn staff be next to strike in Germany?

When can I get reimbursed for a train ticket?

If a train is significantly delayed or cancelled altogether, the passengers affected are entitled to compensation – even in the event of a strike – according to the EU Passenger Regulation.

Those who arrive at their destination one hour late are entitled to a reimbursement of 25 percent of the fare, whereas, for two hours, the responsible rail company must pay the passenger 50 percent of the fare back. 

Passengers can choose between a voucher or payment of the compensation amount.

When there’s an expected delay of 20 minutes at the destination station, passengers are entitled to take another train. Higher-quality trains can also be used, provided they don’t have to be reserved in advance. 

But even if you have to pay for an additional ticket or a surcharge at first, you can later reclaim these costs from the railroad company.

Delays always refer to the arrival time at the destination. For example, if you miss the connecting train because your first train is ten minutes late and arrives at your destination an hour later, you are entitled to compensation.

When can I cancel my trip or return my ticket?

If it’s already clear before departure that the train will arrive at its destination at least one hour later than planned, passengers have a right to cancel the trip and request a full refund. This also applies to cancelled trains or missed connections.

Those who are already en route and break off the trip can have the unused part of the journey refunded. If you return to the departure station, you will even be refunded the full price.

Frankfurt airport

A Deutsche Bahn ICE train leaves the long-distance train station at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

How does ticket reimbursement work?

Deutsche Bahn recommends asking rail staff to confirm the delays. The consumer advice centre also advises passengers to take photos of display boards showing delayed or cancelled trains, or take screenshots from their app or website.

Passengers can then use these documents, along with the ticket and the completed passenger rights form, to claim compensation for the journey. The form should be available directly on the delayed train, at the railroad travel centre or online for download. The documents have to be sent to the railroad or handed in at the travel centre.

It’s now also possible to get a digital refund: if the ticket was purchased online or on a mobile, compensation can be claimed via the customer’s own account in the Bahn app or on bahn.de.

All refunds have to be claimed within one year of the end of the ticket’s validity period – a condition which is always noted on the ticket.

When does Deutsche Bahn cover the cost of hotels and meals?

If you are stranded at a train station in the evening and can’t get anywhere, you are entitled to substitute transportation or, in the worst case, accommodation and a meal there.

Getting to your destination by bus or taxi – who pays?

Deutsche Bahn has previously organised collective trips by cab or bus and issued vouchers for them. But if this is not possible, passengers can also organise a taxi themselves – the reimbursement costs for which are capped at €80.

The fare can only be refunded, however, if the train’s scheduled arrival is between midnight and 5 am and if the expected delay at the destination station is at least one hour. Passengers must also check whether the destination station could also be reached before midnight by another means of transport.

Not at work (on time) due to strikes: what are my rights?

If you depend on the train to get to work, simply staying at home is (usually) not an alternative. Anyone who wants to work from home or take leave at short notice because of the strike must discuss this with their employer as early as possible.

Is there a wage reduction for being late?

If you don’t work, you’re not entitled to a wage – and that also applies if you arrive late at work because of a strike. The so-called travel risk is always borne by the employee in Germany – regardless of whether there is snow, a storm or a strike.

Unfortunately, employees do not have a legal right to make up for missed work time, unless an employment contract or collective agreement states otherwise.