Sector pleased with reform, prepares for next step
By Isabelle Smets | Wednesday 20 June 2012
Railway actors – transport companies, infrastructure managers and freight operators – have reacted positively to the compromise on the recast of EU railway legislation (see
Europolitics 4447). All acknowledge the difficulty and the sensitive nature of the issues involved and are grateful to the negotiators for having worked out an agreement. The general feeling is that it will improve the European rail sector’s efficiency. The stakeholders are already preparing for the next reforms, for which proposals are due by the end of the year.
The European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) stresses the importance of independent management of service infrastructures – railway yards, freight terminals, etc – to guarantee non-discriminatory access to networks. The reform provides additional guarantees in this respect. But the ERFA wants more and is aiming for full unbundling – which the reform does not offer – between providers of these services and the incumbent railway companies.
For the Community of European Railways (CER, the incumbent railway undertakings), the weak point of the reform lies in the absence of real guarantees on financing. There will now be multiannual contracts between the state and infrastructure operators, but the Council manoeuvred to the end to keep this from resulting in long-term financing obligations for the public authorities. They are not particularly overjoyed at the prospect of seeing track access fees – what rail companies pay to reserve tracks – differentiated in the future in terms of the wagons-locomotives used (quiet or not, fitted with ETCS – European Train Control System - or not). The aim is to give companies incentive, through a bonus-malus system, to equip their rolling stock. For the CER, however, the existence of differentiated fees for the ETCS will penalise railway firms that operate primarily on non-equipped corridors.
CER Executive Director Libor Lochman has appealed to the EU institutions to remain tuned in to the sector during the next reform. The subject is touchy - liberalisation of national passenger transport and rail company structures – and the CER, representing the interests of the incumbent firms, is not necessarily on the same wavelength as other players in the sector on these questions. “I am convinced that the current differences between the political institutions and the sector are a direct consequence of the lack of a more systematic dialogue,” insists Lochman. The association is “open to participate in a constructive dialogue in order to find better and reasonable solutions to our common concerns, also in light of the upcoming fourth railway package”.