Commission promotes liberalisation of railways

On 23 January, the Commission presented the second package to revitalise the European railway industry. This package includes proposals for opening up Member States’ freight transport systems to competition and more coordinated safety measures.

The five measures proposed in the second rail package are to:

  • develop a common approach to rail safety (a directive will lay down clear rules for safety certificates);
  • promote interoperability (common standards etc.);
  • speed up the opening of the rail freight market (the first rail package only opened the international freight market, but now the national markets will also be included);
  • set up a steering body, the European Railway Agency, to coordinate work on safety and interoperability (it should be in operation by 2004-2005)
  • join the intergovernmental organisation for international carriage by rail (OTIF), which drafts international regulations on dangerous goods, technical standards etc.

 

The Commission's plans to revitalise the rail sector might well be threatened by national interests. Currently, the rail industry gets national subsidies of over 30 billion euro. Member States that have opened their railways to competition (such as the UK and Sweden) are in favour of liberalisation, whereas others want to keep a grip on their national railway industries (esp. France).

Several rail freight customers established the European Rail Freight Customers' Platform (ERFCP) in December 2001. Founding members of the ERFCP are UNICE, CEFIC, CLECAT, USINOR, DSM, Shell Chemicals, Mars and others. They expressed their support for the Commission's proposal, stressing the need to stick to the timetables for liberalisation and interoperability. They hoped that greater competition in the railway sector would lead to better and more reliable services and higher efficiency.

 

The second railway package builds on the Transport White Paper of 12 September 2001, in which the Commission expressed its intention to shift the balance between modes of transport by revitalising the railways. Over the last few decades, European railways saw their share of freight transport fall from 21 to 8 percent (in comparison: in the US rail haulage accounts for 40 percent - source: White Paper).

 

The proposal will need the approval of the European Parliament and the Council. The Barcelona Council of 15-16 March will probably be invited to adopt a declaration.

 

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