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Passenger railway markets should be opened up – European Commission

The European Commission has issued the 4th Railway Package, including changes to the legal framework for rail businesses across Europe and opening EU domestic passenger markets.

The package also proposes strengthening the essential functions of infrastructure managers to control path allocation, traffic management, maintenance and planning.

There should be an enhanced role for the European Safety Agency and the Commission aims to simplify the technical and administrative barriers to cross-European interoperability.

The Commission proposes a 20% reduction in the time to market for new rail undertakings and a 20% reduction in the cost and duration of the authorisation of rolling stock – which could lead to €500m savings by 2025.

Domestic passenger railways should be opened up to new entrants and services from December 2019, the proposals suggest.

Vice President Siim Kallas, European Commission Vice President responsible for Transport said: “Europe's railways are approaching a very important junction.  Faced with stagnation or decline in rail in many markets across Europe, we have a simple choice. We can take the tough decisions now that are needed to restructure Europe's railway market to encourage innovation and the provision of better services. 

“Rail will be able to grow again to the benefit of citizens, business and the environment. Or we can take the other track. We can accept an irreversible slide down the slippery slope to a Europe where railways are a luxury toy for a few rich countries and are unaffordable for most in the face of scare public money.”

The Rail Freight Group (RFG) welcomed the measures, but stated it was “deeply disappointed” that the Commission has stepped back from full and complete separation of infrastructure management and train operation in all member states.

Maggie Simpson, RFG executive director said: “The measures announced today will have important benefits for UK companies seeking to grow their business across Europe.  It is now up to the Council and European Parliament to demonstrate its independence of national interests and insist on full separation of track and train. Without this rail freight will struggle to prosper, and to fulfill its role at the heart of European logistics.”

Lord Tony Berkeley, RFG chair but speaking in his own regard, said the new package “illustrates the extent to which the original and excellent draft setting up a fully liberalised and competitive railway structure compliant with the principles of the Internal Market has been turned in the space of less than a month by the intervention of German Chancellor Angela Merkel into a German Railway Package for Europe, a ‘Europäische Weltreichsbahn’. Merkel’s intervention, following the massive lobbying by Deutsche Bahn, forced the Commission to change its plans.”

He added: “In Germany, the Commission’s infraction proceedings have already demonstrated wide ranging failures to comply even with existing law, particularly on the issue of hidden transfers of profits from IM to the holding company. In France, Germany’s partner in this monopolistic exercise, SNCF, in spite of being fined over €60m for anticompetitive behaviour, it and the French Government are hurrying towards the same integrated structure which is already seen by the Commission as illegal in other member states. So here we have two of the largest member states already in breach of railway law, now having succeeded in getting the law changed so that they can carry on as they please.”

Director general of UNIFE, Philippe Citroen, said: “A Single European Railway Area requires a single European Railway Agency with strong competences.”

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Image c. Marc Antoine L Frenette


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