Arduous negotiations on opening up European rail transport to competition and establishing minimum passenger rights neared an end as MEPs confirmed a compromise deal struck in June with the Council, which would allow passengers to be compensated financially for international train delays.
On 25 September, MEPs approved a conciliation deal struck with the Council in June to further liberalise European railway services. The main elements of the deal are:
- International passenger rail services will be opened up to competition as of 1 January 2010. Within two years of that date, the Commission will have to reassess the situation to see whether liberalisation of domestic services – as had been demanded by the UK, Germany and Italy – should be envisaged. France, Belgium and Luxembourg had led the opposition to allowing other member states to carry out services within their territory.
- As of 2009, when the Directive enters into force, all rail passengers, both on international and domestic journeys, will enjoy a set of basic rights, including company liability for passengers and their luggage and the right to take a bike on board. Rail companies will also have to ensure that people with reduced mobility are able to use their services, even at unmanned stations.
- Extended rights, including compulsory compensation of travellers (of 25% of the fare for a delay of one hour, or of 50% in case of delays of 2 hours or more), will at first be limited to cross-border services. However, member states will be able to exclude some services from these provisions for up to 15 years, and urban and regional services may be granted an indefinite exemption.
- All train drivers will have to hold a certificate recognising that they meet minimum requirements in terms of medical fitness, basic education and general professional skills. The aim is to enhance safety on European railways, while facilitating professional mobility and cross-border services. Other crew members will not be subject to such a licensing system, but MEPs obtained that the Commission must look into this further within one year of the Directive's implementation and, if necessary, present a new proposal to include other train staff performing safety-critical tasks.
Johannes Ludewig, executive director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), welcomed the separate treatment of national markets as a sign that "the EU institutions have taken into account specific situation of railway companies in Central and Eastern Europe, who are not yet prepared for competition for national services".
The driver-certification scheme "will significantly facilitate cross-border services", stated the CER, adding that the separate examination of the question of certifying other staff will ensure that "no superfluous measures are put in place".
It added: "On passengers' rights, the final compromise manages to reconcile the objective of formalised rights for passengers across the EU and the reality of extremely heterogeneous conditions of railway companies in various member states."
The European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM) said that it regretted the delay in the liberalisation of national passenger markets. "Lack of market liberalisation and competition is now widely acknowledged to be counterproductive to growth. EIM would have preferred to see a timetable for opening of the domestic passenger market," said Secretary-General Michael Robson.
He further believes that the provision requiring the Commission to present a proposal on the certification of other personnel performing safety-critical tasks within one year could have "widespread cost implications" due to the increased monitoring and certification costs. "EIM is concerned about the exact scope of the wording 'safety related personnel' and the amount of people involved in the certification. Adding unnecessary cost burdens to the sector will not have the desired effect of increasing transport by rail as the third railway package aims to achieve," he stressed.
He concluded: "Market liberalisation is key to increasing rail market share, reducing road congestion and therefore has a positive impact on climate change. EIM therefore looks forward to further initiatives from the EC in the area of rail freight."
EPP-ED Rapporteur Georg Jarzembowski said that the opening of cross-border traffic would lead to "more choice for the customers".
He called on national governments to introduce passenger-compensation schemes "as soon as possible also for domestic trains", saying: "The odds are that trains will run on time much more often and railways will become a more popular means of transport."
He added that the introduction of common training standards for train drivers also means "we will be able to do away with the notorious change of train drivers at borders. This is going to save time and make trains a more convenient alternative."
Parliament Rapporteur Dirk Sterckx (ALDE, BE) said: "The fact that it was so difficult to persuade all member states to grant basic rights to rail passengers shows how poorly railway authorities treat their customers nowadays. By reaching this agreement we have done all rail passengers in the Union a service. In its original proposal the European Commission wanted to grant rights only to international passengers. Now all passengers will enjoy a range of basic rights."
EP Rapporteur Gilles Savary (PES, FR) welcomed the adoption of the directive on driver certification which he says will "strengthen, through the harmonisation of professional standards, the human dimension of railway security". However, he criticised the Council for having reduced the application of passenger rights to only a number of railway operators and for allowing member states to delay the conferral of these rights until as late as 2024.
But according to the GUE/NGL group: "Once again the ideology of exaggerated liberalisation prevailed over any other consideration." It claims that the decision to open up railway networks has been taken "without serious studies" and that it will damage public rail and raise serious problems in terms of employment, safety and quality of services.
- 25 Sept. 2007: Parliament approved the conciliation agreement.
- 1 Oct. 2007: Transport ministers expected to approve the agreement in Council.