German TAC lawsuit follows political deal that shields local passenger rail

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The German rail sector is heading into a pivotal lawsuit that could decide the future of the country’s track access charges (TAC) policy. Eleven rail companies are suing the Bundesnetzagentur following a planned 16,2 per cent TAC increase. According to them, a federal political deal to shield local passenger rail is hurting other sectors and is in breach of EU law.

Earlier, the Bundesnetzagentur approved a record TAC increase at 16,2 per cent. According to rail freight organisation Die Güterbahnen, this is more than all increases over the past five years combined. Eleven rail companies decided to head to court over the planned increase, disputing its compliance with EU law.

The rail companies, among which are TAC collector DB InfraGO, DB Cargo, DB Fernverkehr, Havelländische Eisenbahn, Metrans Rail Deutschland and BBL Logistik, maintain that the German government meddles too much in the determination of track-access charges. EU law prohibits legislators from determining infrastructure managers’ prices “too specifically”, according to Die Güterbahnen.

A political deal undercutting rail freight

Daniela Morling, press spokesperson for Die Güterbahnen, explains to RailFreight.com that the current German system puts an unfair burden on rail freight and long-distance passenger companies, which has prompted the rail companies to start the lawsuit. A political deal between the federal government and the German states shields local rail companies by upholding a strict limit on TAC increases for the local companies. In 2025, the maximum increase is 0,6 per cent.

Track-access charges are supposed to cover DB InfraGO’s incurred costs and a return on investment that the infrastructure manager is legally entitled to, amounting to 600 million euros. As DB InfraGO’s costs and the required return on investment grow, so will track-access charges. With the strict limit on TAC increases for local passenger rail, the burden primarily befalls rail freight and long-distance passenger rail, Morling says.

The market subsidising the state

In practice, the current system forces the market to subsidise the state. Currently, TACs paid by rail freight companies finance the maintenance of stations used by local passenger rail. “The freight railroads, most of which are privately operated, are subsidising part of the costs of regional rail transport, which should actually be borne by the federal and state governments”, Daniela Morling explains.

At the same time, there is a general and broader dissatisfaction with the planned TAC increase. “We should pay a lot more money for less performance. The condition of the network has not improved and the obstacles in the network are getting bigger and bigger due to more and more construction sites. This means that rail companies’ operating costs are increasing anyway”, Die Güterbahnen CEO Ludolf Kerkeling states.

Moreover, TAC increases seriously endanger the rail freight sector, according to the rail freight organisation. “Companies cannot pass on further cost increases to end customers, and numerous transport operations become uneconomical and are switched from rail to road”, the organisation states.

Onwards to the European Court of Justice

The suing parties are aiming for a decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), according to Die Güterbahnen. “​​It is actually our declared aim that it will go to the European Court of Justice. Either the Cologne Administrative Court or the Federal Administrative Court should refer the matter to the ECJ for clarification. They will then decide whether or not it is contrary to European law”, says Daniela Morling.

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Author: Dennis van der Laan

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