Unbundling sparks tension
By Isabelle Smets | Tuesday 03 July 2012
The issue of the separation between infrastructure management and transport operation (unbundling) is a particularly sensitive one in Germany, where the powerful Deutsche Bahn (DB) is part of a holding that also includes the infrastructure manager. It is no secret: Germany and the DB do not want EU legislation that would force them to re-evaluate this model. They are therefore following the preliminary debates ahead of the fourth rail package with some anxiety – and lobbying is going full throttle.
The evidence of this nervousness is in the fact that the German press recently echoed the tensions at the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) concerning the stance it is taking on unbundling. The source of these tensions is an interview published in
Europolitics,on 28 March (4394), in which the Secretary-General of ERFA, Pierre Tonon, called unbundling the "simple and less costly solution that really facilitates market opening".
Sparks flew after the interview, which exasperated one of the members of the association, Verband Deutscher Verkehrsunternehmen (VDV) of Germany, which includes the German public transport companies and freight transport – of which the DB holding is the most influent.
According to the German press, VDV is now putting pressure on the secretary-general of ERFA and, following the interview, has threatened to quit the association if it does not change its tune about unbundling (
Europolitics was privy to a letter that confirmed these claims). The story took a more poisonous turn when the two other actors, Mofair and Netzwerk Europäischer Eisenbahnen (NEE), two German federations of transport companies, published a press release, on 21 June, in which they spoke out about the pressure of VDV on ERFA, and sided with ERFA. In their PR, Mofair and Netzwerk underlined the influence of DB on VDV by referring to the role played by the current main administrator of VDV in the distribution of some rail markets to a DB subsidiary at the time when he worked in the Ministry of Transport of North Rhine-Westphalia. The two federations blame VDB’s reaction to the
Europoliticsinterview on DB’s nervousness about the issue of unbundling.
These tensions are rather unwelcome for the European Commission, which is busy working on the fourth package that will tackle the issue of relations between infrastructure managers and transport companies. The Commission is in favour of a clear-cut separation between the two, as it considers that this is the easiest way to avoid conflicts of interest. Moreover, ERFA is one of its most precious allies on this sensitive issue. Except, obviously, if it were to stop speaking up.