Measures to improve railway operations in the EU, including boosting the interoperability of national networks and increasing the role of the European Railway Agency, are debated and voted on by MEPs on Thursday 28 April. These changes should pave the way for further measures later year, readying national networks for the eventual liberalisation of services, more competition for public contracts and greater restrictions on subsidies. Read on for more details.
The Fourth Railway Package aims to make rail travel in Europe more attractive. This week MEPs vote on the so-called technical pillar of the package. This includes proposals to streamline a large number of national rules regarding rail operations, facilitate EU-wide authorisations for placing rail vehicles on the marked and reduce red tape for companies planning to operate in more than one EU country.
On 19 April negotiators from the Parliament, Council and the European Commission reached an agreement on a number of measures to improve the provision of services. The new rules will only enter into force once they have been endorsed by the Parliament and every member state. This is expected to happen by the end of the year. Read on for the key points of this agreement:
Liberalisation of railway passenger market
Railway companies would be able to operate everywhere in the EU without restrictions from 2020.The increased competition would be likely to lead to lower prices for travellers. This could mean that the companies that currently dominate the rail sector will no longer be the norm.
Italian S&D member David-Maria Sassoli, who steered the proposals on market opening through Parliament, said: “The market is now open, even if this happens 20 years after it took place in the aviation sector. I hope this deal will give a strong boost to the European rail sector.”
Competition for public service contracts
Railway companies would have to bid for public service contracts for passenger rail services from 2023 . The aim is to ensure that public authorities get the best possible value for money, while still ensuring good quality public transport.
Dutch EPP member Wim van de Camp, who was responsible for steering the rules on public service contracts through Parliament, said: “Direct awarding will still be possible, but only when national authorities can ensure that the services to travellers will improve.”
The changes could lead to cost-efficient business models such as low-cost rail travel. Van de Camp added: “This will result in European travellers reaping the benefits.”
End of illegal state aid and subsidies
Infrastructure managers, the companies managing the network, would have to grant non-discriminatory access to rail transport operators wishing to offer services on the network. In addition increased financial transparency would eliminate illegal state aids and subsidies.
Finnish GUE/NGL member Merja Kyllönen (Finland), who was responsible for steering the rules rail transport through Parliament, said: “The railway market deal will boost investment in […] rail traffic in Europe, provide better services for travellers and enable swift transition towards greener transportation.”