The liberalisation of international passenger rail routes is to be speeded up with competition unlocked as early as 2008 instead of 2010, under a revised version of the EU's so-called third railway package by the European Parliament.
Euro MPs voting in Strasbourg on 28 September went further down the liberalisation track than the Commission by introducing a new requirement to open up national routes to competition, starting from 2012.
This new provision is likely to meet with stiff opposition from several EU countries when transport ministers discuss the package on 6 October. For the first time, railway liberalisation has been put on the ministers' agenda but the matter is expected to create tensions in the Council between supporters and opponents of more liberalisation.
France, Belgium and Luxembourg are leading the opponents' group, an EU source told EurActiv, describing the opening of national routes to competition as "clearly highly political" and "super-sensitive". The countries most in favour include the UK, Germany and Italy.
However, the liberalisation of international passenger routes is likely to prove less controversial, the source added, because the matter was already mentioned in a political declaration issued by ministers when they adopted the second railway package in 2004.
Some anticipate the whole liberalisation issue will split the Council down the middle and will lead to a break up of the package into four separate proposals.
In a separate vote, MEPs also backed a proposal introducing compensation for train travellers in case of delays, as is also now the case for airlines. MEPs proposed the following minimum compensation:
- 25% of the fare for a delay of 60 minutes or more;
- 50% for a delay of 120 minutes or more and
- 75% for a delay of 180 minutes or more.
In separate votes, MEPs adopted a less controversial proposal to harmonise the certification of train drivers and crews by a large majority (Savary report).
However, they rejected a proposed regulation setting a compensation scheme for delays in freight (Zile report) on the grounds that it would not improve standards in the industry. The Commission estimates the average speed of international rail freight in Europe to reach 18 km/h, or the speed of an ice-breaker.