Commission proposes liberalising passenger rail transportation from 2010

Under new Commission proposals, the transportation of passengers by rail should be liberalised from 2010 and the EU rail passengers would get the same level of compensation in case of delayed trains.

The Commission put forward a third railway package on 3 March 2004, even before the closing of the conciliation procedure on the second railway package. The new package contains four proposals:

  • a directive on the liberalisation of passenger transport;
  • a draft directive introducing an EU license for train drivers;
  • a regulation on punctuality and compensation for late arrivals;
  • a regulation on the rights and obligations of passengers in international transport.

The most sensitive issue of this package is the opening up of the market for transporting passengers. The Commission proposes that from 1 January 2010, railway companies should be able to operate international services in the Community. If that deadline were to be agreed, existing services such as Thalys and Eurostar could expect to face private sector competitors from that date. The aim of this liberalisation is to stimulate more competition in??? international rail services which are facing increasing pressure from low-cost airlines. France, Luxembourg and Belgium in particular are reluctant to move too fast with the liberalisation given that the process is lekely to lead to job losses and union protests.

Another issue which is expected to trigger lively debate is the level of compensation that will be given to passengers where trains arrive late or are cancelled. This proposal follows a recently adopted regulation on compensation of passengers for delayed and cancelled flights.


Transport Commissioner, Loyola de Palaciotold reporters: "Pressure from low-cost airlines is already a reality for international rail passenger services: they will have to evolve into new models and this is without any doubt the right time to free up initiatives. This proposal is both ambitious and realistic: with the 2010 deadline, we are establishing a clear timeframe for all operators so that they can prepare".

The community of European Railways (CER)gave the draft proposals a lukewarm reaction. It is concerned about some elements of the package, i.e. the proposals on passenger rights and penalties for freight transport which over-regulate the sector. CER executive Director, Johannes Ludwig said: “European legislation is not needed to secure adequate passenger rights, the railways have already documented that they are able and willing to deliver good solutions in dialogue with user organisations.”

Socialist MEPsclaim that an early liberalisation of railways for passengers could have a negative impact on security, quality of services and jobs in this sector.


The Parliament and the Council have been going through a conciliation procedure on the second railway package since January 2004 (seeEURACTIV, 29 January 2004). The deadline for the liberalisation of railways for freight and passengers is one of the main bones of contention. During the first conciliation meeting, the Commission presented a compromise proposal indicating a 2010 deadline for the liberalisation of railways for passengers' transportation. While the Parliament said it could accept such a proposal, the Council earlier indicated that this issue should be dealt with within the third railway package, which has now been presented.


  • The Commission will present the third railway package to the Transport Council on 8-9 March 2004
  • The proposals will be forwarded to the Parliament for its first reading


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