Europe maintains an extensive railway network that allows for intense international passenger traffic across all European Union (EU) member states and other countries. As such, it needs to be regulated and periodically examined. The EU coordinates efforts to ensure rail transport in their countries is efficient and safe. They also strive to set standards and minimum levels of service, such as those outlined in the Rail Passenger Rights Regulation. Originally enacted in 2007, this document protects passengers by establishing their rights as well as the actions railway stations need to take to provide better services in different areas.
In Chapter V of the Rail Passenger Rights Regulation, disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility (PRM) are specifically mentioned. Article 19, the first of this chapter, declares this group’s right to transport. The rest of the chapter includes their right to non-discrimination, outlines conditions in which assistance both at railway stations and on board is to be provided, and compensation for damage or loss of mobility and other specific equipment. Railway services should be notified 48 hours beforehand of the need for assistance, which also must be requested independently at every stage of the journey if it extends to more than one stop.
The new modifications to the Regulation came into force on June 7th 2023. There have been key improvements over the previous document, including new provisions on non-discrimination and accessibility for PRM and other disabilities.
The Regulation now contains better specifications for assistance dogs and other service animals. Requests for assistance need 24 hours’ notice, instead of the previous 48; an accompanying person can travel for free and next to the passenger when possible. Station information is now based on real-time data and must be accessible to all. Mobility equipment that is lost or damaged within the responsibility of the train operators must be compensated, not only for the repair or replacement, but also for the costs of temporary replacement. This applies to injury or loss of assistance dogs and other animals too. The needs of people with disabilities should be considered when there is accommodation offered for the night, in case of a journey that cannot continue the same day.
Another very important improvement is the Single Points of Contact, which will serve as gateways for PRM to organise their trip and request assistance only once, even if the journey will pass through different railway undertakings or even different EU member states. Finally, all railway staff must attend disability-related and awareness training, with involvement from advocacy groups and persons with disabilities encouraged but not compulsory.
While these advancements over the 2007 regulation are present, other areas are in need of further improvement. Namely that notice for assistance is still required, and the hours in which it can be provided are limited, thus reducing the options PRM have at their disposal to travel. There is also the possibility of regulation exemptions for suburban, urban, and international services that include non-EU countries.
Trains are an affordable and environmentally friendly way to travel. Entirely independent, spontaneous travel is not yet possible for all persons with disabilities, but the steps taken so far are nonetheless important and pave the way for further improvement. Contact IA Labs today to find out how we can help to improve the digital accessibility of your rail services.