EU support measures for rail during pandemic possibly extended
The EU Commission has proposed to extend the possibility to reduce or waive track access charges, in order to continue support for the railway industry throughout the pandemic. It is suggesting to prolong the support measure until 30 June 2022, with a possibility further extend this until 31 December 2023 if necessary.
The possibility to reduce or waive track access charges, formalised in Regulation 2020/1429, ended on 31 December. However, many organisations had asked for an extension, as the railway industry is still suffering significant losses.
Measures are needed
The EU Commission has acknowledged this necessity. It writes: “Because the pandemic is not over yet and a certain level of unpredictability of future developments persists, it is also necessary to delegate on the Commission the power to further extend, each time by a maximum of six months, the above period, in continuity with the existing legal framework.”
The Commission also notes that it could not adopt such legislation earlier due to the “unforeseeable evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak and in particular the sudden emergence of new variants of concern”. “Regulation (EU) 2020/1429 requires the Commission to base the decision on a possible extension of the reference period on data that infrastructure managers were to supply once half of the prolongation of the reference period had elapsed.”
The support measures can be applied retroactively, in order to cover the period after 31 December 2021. The legal text of the regulation remains the same.
What does it mean?
The regulation aims to relieve railway undertakings from financial losses due to the pandemic restrictions. Specifically, it authorises infrastructure managers to waive, reduce or defer track access charges for railway undertakings. The Commission introduced it on 7 October 2020, and it became active retroactively from 1 March 2020. The initial plan was to last until 31 December 2020. It was extended until 30 June 2021, and then again until 31 December.
Many EU countries adopted the regulation with a positive outcome. Among them were the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Germany. However, railway associations ring the bell also for the viability of infrastructure managers. Implementing the regulation is always welcome. Unfortunately, though, infrastructure managers in countries that adopted it experienced financial losses 6 to 8 times higher than in countries that did not. Consequently, the Member States that put the regulation in action should also always provide financial compensation to the infrastructure managers.