European Parliament approves 4th Railway Package

The long-awaited 4th Railway Package has been described by the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) as a ‘missed opportunity’ to create a competitive level playing field between rail and other transport modes. ERFA believes that the adoption of the ‘technical pillar’ serves to emphasise the dominance of state-run monopolies and that the road sector ‘is again the winner’.

Level playing field

First outlined in 2013, the 4th Railway Package aims to improve the competitiveness of the rail sector and quality of services by removing administrative costs, introducing more competition in domestic passenger services and ensuring a level playing field for operators, including freight. The technical pillar, which consists of proposals to amend the interoperability and safety directives, and the regulation of the European Railway Agency, has been officially adopted by the European Parliament.

Violeta Bulc, EU Transport Commissioner, said: “By gradually opening domestic markets to competition, the 4th Railway Package will make European railways more responsive to market and consumer demand. It will also ensure that public authorities get the best possible value for public money when they award public services contracts. This should encourage Europeans to make a greater use of rail and contribute to a more sustainable mobility. Market-opening will, however, not be made at the expense of workers, as the package contains the necessary tools to give staff an adequate level of protection.”

‘Monopoly player egoisms’

ERFA said that while the technical pillar was an important and overall positive step forward for the rail sector, it believed that the ‘political pillar’ was still dominated by national and ‘monopoly player egoisms’, reinforcing the state-run dominance to the detriment of customers across all sectors.

“Incumbent operators successfully managed to water down many of the safeguards against competitive distortions and conflicts of interests,” said ERFA. “The failure of the 4th Railway Package to effectively separate trains and tracks prevents the completion of the single European Railway Area, where all rail businesses should be able to compete fairly and on the same level playing field.

Modal shift goals

“Again, the winner of the 4th Railway Package is the road sector, which successfully attracts investments, innovation and political attention, driving forward an ambitious modernisation agenda in the form of truck platooning and road electrification. Ironically, the lack of reform of the rail sector is a major opportunity for the road sector to appear at the forefront of the decarbonisation agenda.”

Now that the legislative process had ended, ERFA said it would actively work on the full and proper enforcement of EU rules to best ensure the basic conditions for an open market were established. New entrants, it added, brought ‘fresh blood and innovation’ into the sector and, despite a difficult climate, they had generated new traffic across Europe and attracted new customers. This showed that fair competition was a key driver in delivering the EU’s modal shift goals.

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), which represents more than 3.5 million transport workers across the continent, said it ‘disapproved’ the European Parliament’s vote. Guy Grievelding, President of the ETF Railway Section, said: “We are determined to maintain the pressure on decision makers, and we will keep mobilising our affiliates to fight social dumping practices and promote a social Europe.

“This amended regulation does not improve the quality of public services in railway transport and the protection of staff in competitive tendering is a crucial condition for that. ETF calls for basing fair competition on quality criteria instead of lowering working conditions, job insecurity and job losses,” he added.

The EU said potential conflicts of interest would have to be assessed to ensure infrastructure managers operated impartially, so that all operators have equal access to tracks and stations. Also, to ensure services which member states want to be supplied under public service contracts continue, countries could restrict a new operator’s right of access to certain lines. Rail companies will be able to offer new commercial services on domestic lines from 14 December 2020, while competitive tendering will become the general rule for new public service contracts from December 2023.

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

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