EIM: no reduction but extended payment of track access charges
It is better to give rail operators more time to pay than to reduce track access charges. If they pay lower or no charges, the burden is simply passed on to from the operators to the infrastructure managers, which is not a sustainable solution, explained Monika Heiming in a video interview with RailTech. She is director of
European Infrastructure Managers (EIM), which represents the interests of fifteen European rail infrastructure managers.
European rail operators who have been affected by the coronavirus crisis are calling for loans, extended payment deadlines and reduction of track access charges. In particular the newest players in the rail sector fear for their existence after the crisis. According to Heiming, it is “important that rail operators are supported so that they do not go bust”.
Last week, the European Commission sent a letter to the European sector outlining the possibilities for member states to give financial support to the rail sector during the coronavirus crisis. EU regulation allows this under certain circumstances, such as the extraordinary circumstances that Europe now finds itself in.
Track access charges
According to Heiming, lowering track access charges is not the right solution, as it could lead to financial problems for infrastructure managers. She believes it would be more logical if rail operators could directly ask for help from member states, who in turn are supported by the EU.
“The money from the track access charges is needed now, so the rail sector can get ready for after the corona crisis, by tackling capacity problems and continuing investment in the sector”, she explains. “If you stopped asking for money for the use of the lines, rail infrastructure managers could no longer pay their own contractors, for example for the roll- out of ERTMS or further improvements of the tracks.”
Watch the video interview with EIM Director Monika Heiming here:
“Together with the European Commission, we have looked at what we can do from a legal perspective. And we have agreed that we cannot deviate from the existing regulation. For instance, it’s not possible to have charges that are lower than the direct costs for use of the track.” This is tough, says Heiming, as for her an exemption should be made here. “What a number of our members are doing is not billing for reservation costs when train paths are cancelled, or for parking costs.”
“At the moment we are looking at a harmonised approach via PRIME around the possibility of extending payment deadlines for track access charges. Together with the ministries and the market authorities we can decide to waive the cancellation costs for train paths.”
“We can’t make the virus disappear, but as rail infrastructure managers we can, in conjunction with rail operators, ensure that the railways are operating without a hitch. Last year, through PRIME, we developed a crisis plan. We are working on allowing as many freight trains as possible to run, as well as a number of passenger trains.” PRIME is a platform uniting the European rail infrastructure managers and the European Commission. Its aim is to flag up problems in the European rail sector in a timely manner and, where necessary, quickly formulate EU policy to rapidly deal with the issues.
Heiming says that there is collaboration on operational procedures at the European level, so that trains can move across borders as easily as possible. With the help of the European Commission, the international transport sector has created ‘Green Lanes’ at border crossing points to make it easy for rail freight trains to move from one country to another. “If there is a crisis, it’s important that goods can keep moving. And we have facilitated this with the Green Lanes. It’s vital for rail infrastructure managers that we cooperate on this, as otherwise there will be a backlog of trains at the borders. The members of EIM have worked with the authorities to ensure that the trains can keep crossing the borders.”
EIM is afraid that, because of the coronavirus crisis, there will be less focus on the EU’s sustainability objectives. “With the COVID-19 crisis there is a risk that a lot of financing and attention will shift from the Green Deal to economic recovery. That is understandable, but we must not let our sustainability goals fall by the wayside”, asserts EIM Policy Officer Guus de Bruijn. “The crisis has shown that the railway is vital. Investing in rail now, and therefore creating jobs, is the best way to exit the coronavirus crisis and propel the Green Deal,” he concludes.