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UPDATE 1-EU bolsters rail passengers, boosts competition
(Updates with vote outcome)
By Huw Jones
BRUSSELS, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Rail passengers suffering long delays on journeys through more than one European Union country may claim refunds under new rules adopted by the European Parliament on Tuesday.
The move to beef up passenger rights for the bloc's 490 million citizens from 2009 is part of a "railway package" the approved by the assembly after years of tough negotiations with EU states, which have joint say.
The package also opens up international passenger routes to competition from 2010, and ensures that all train drivers meet basic health and professional requirements from 2009.
EU lawmakers voted by 541 to 66 in favour of the market liberalisation, with 20 abstentions. The initiatives on passenger rights and train drivers were adopted by a show of hands.
The passenger rights element of the package had been intended to apply only to international journeys, but parliament overcame member state opposition to extend some elements to domestic journeys as well.
All passengers will have a basic set of rights such as a liability on companies for passengers and their luggage, and the right to take a bike on board.
Railway companies will also have to make every reasonable effort to ensure that disabled and other less mobile passengers can use their service, even at unmanned stations.
Compensation for delays to cross-border services will amount to a quarter of the fare for a delay of an hour or more and to half of the fare for delays of two hours or more.
Compensation rights will be extended to all long-distance journeys eventually.
But states will have the right to opt out of some requirements for up to 15 years, such as the right to take a bike on a train. Local and regional services may also obtain an indefinite exemption from such provisions.
Countries such as France, Belgium and Luxembourg needed persuading to open their international rail routes to competition. Cargo routes have already been liberalised.
The European Commission, the EU's executive, will report by 2012 on how competition has fared and whether states are ready to open the market further by including domestic services.
The new rules will also require train drivers to hold a European certificate stating they meet minimum health, education and general professional skill requirements. Other train staff may be included later.
((Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by Dale Hudson and Sami Aboudi; Brussels newsroom + 32 2 287 6817, email@example.com)) Keywords: RAILWAYS EU/
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