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EU top court rules against rail firm in compensation-for-delay dispute

The European Court of Justice has made a landmark ruling giving rail passengers far-reaching rights to seek compensation for delays. Railway operators can no longer claim extraordinary circumstances to avoid payouts.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled Thursday that the policy of Austrian railway operator ÖBB exempting it from paying compensation for delays caused by acts of nature was invalid.

ÖBB sought a ruling by the EU top court after it had been ordered by Austria's railway supervisors to scrap a policy banning compensation for delays that were beyond the company's control such as bad weather and industrial action by its workforce.

Under EU rules, railway operators must reimburse a quarter of the ticket price for delays of up to two hours, and 50 percent for longer delays. Air and sea passengers, however, are not entitled to compensation if the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances outside the travel operator's control.

The EU court said that railway transportation must not be compared to flights and sea journeys.

German railway operator Deutsche Bahn welcomed the ruling, saying it would ensure legal security with regard to compensation for delays. The company, which carries about 2 billion passengers a year, said it had always handled compensation claims in a passenger-friendly way.

Germany's Pro Bahn passengers' advocacy group said the ruling would render rail operators' policies aimed at avoiding compensation obsolete.

uhe/rg (AP, dpa)

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