The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) made public a report challenging the cost benefits of high-speed rail and contending that rail is not as green-friendly as promoted by policymakers.
The group also said rail systems have an unfair advantage over airlines in that much of the infrastructure costs are publicly financed, although airlines also benefit from tax breaks and public backing of airports.
“There is a blatant bias toward rail,” Simon McNamara, deputy director general of ERA, said in a telephone news conference. “The scales are tipped in that mode’s favour and we think that needs to be corrected, and we hope this study will start that process.”
Parliament backs rail liberalisation
The report was made public a day after the European Parliament voted to liberalise freight and passenger rail networks, especially in cross-frontier routes, citing low market shares of about 7% for freight and 12% for passenger services.
However, the legislation fell short of European Commission proposals for a complete separation of transport and infrastructure operators that advocates said would drive cross-border competition and service.
“While trucks and planes cross borders without any difficulty, cross-border rail services face many technical, legal and political obstacles,” Italian MEP Debora Serracchiani (Socialists & Democrats) said in a statement. “With the realisation of a single market, citizens will be able to benefit from trains that go across Europe, at better prices and with service comparable to planes and coaches.”
The measure was approved by a vote of 526 to 80, with 36 abstentions. Though praised by several organisations as a step to improving trans-European rail service, some political groups in Parliament said it was a sell-out that would lead to privatisation and profiteering.
A decade after the EU’s first railway package aimed at boosting integration of routes and competition, the European Commission has called for additional measures to encourage competition and private investment in a sector still heavily under state influence.
The Commission is also looking in the coming months for reform the tendering process for rail project to guarantee competitive bidding across the EU and to strengthen the European Railway Agency’s safety oversight.
The airline group's McNamara called the Parliament vote a “step in the right direction,” but said it fell short of addressing public subsidies that were unfair to other transport modes. The trade group’s report says that under the EU’s decade-old Trans-European Transport Network, or TEN-T, more than €318.7 billion was spent on rail and high-speed projects compared to €1.34 billion in air infrastructure, out of some €400 billion in trans-European transport spending.
“What we’re looking for out of this is a change of attitude by policymakers and politicians towards the two modes. We’re looking for a level playing field based on fair competition and equal treatment.”
Cooperation and competition
McNamara told EurActiv that the report was presented to the European Commission but there has been no response from Siim Kallas, the transport commissioner.
Though acknowledging that the 65-member ERA has a vested interest in its report on air-rail competition, McNamara said the industry association’s study shows there are successful examples of cooperation between airlines and rail companies.
Alliances between carriers and passenger trains in both German and France have been highly successful in improving short-haul service and seamless air-to-rail transfers. McNamara said airlines and railway companies – as well as the EU - should build on these successes.