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Third Railway Package goes to the vote

01 Feb 2007

INTERNATIONAL passenger services in Europe are on course to be opened up to competition from 2010 following a vote in the European Parliament on January 18 after the second reading of the Third Railway Package. But a proposal supported by the Transport Committee for domestic services in the EU15 to be opened up from 2017, with new member states following in 2022, was thrown out when put to the full Parliament.With the entire EU rail freight market theoretically open from January 1 this year, a long-cherished tenet of European transport policy has come to fruition. Judging by comments made by Hupac Chairman Hans-J?rg Bertschi, there are signs that it is succeeding. Rail is gaining market share back from road traffic', he asserted when reporting the Swiss intermodal company's 2006 results on January 17 - in the last three years Hupac carryings have risen by 55%, proving 'that the policy of railway liberalisation has been a key factor in increasing the attractiveness of railway products'.Proposals to liberalise passenger services are somewhat trickier, and much negotiation lies ahead before a directive is issued on the basis of the Third Railway Package. This consists of separate reports on liberalisation, the certification of train crews and passenger rights, with all three generating controversy. The proposals will now be addressed through the conciliation procedure with the Council of Ministers.Up for discussion are amendments pushed through by MEPs in December that included what the European Rail Infrastructure Managers group considered 'a contradictory provision' which could force open-access operators to pay a levy to help fund other rail services. EIM and the Community of European Railways & Infrastructure Companies condemned the proposed fee, which EIM said would be 'a powerful tool to member states that would want to prevent access to their domestic market'. EIM also drew attention to higher costs that would be imposed under the Passengers' Rights section, which calls for 'increased obligations of assistance and information for station managers'. CER flagged up an amendment which says 'all trains, including cross-border and high speed trains, should provide a specially-designated area enabling passengers to bring on to the train baby carriages, wheelchairs, bicycles and sports equipment'. CER said this was 'definitely unworkable' and 'a real practical concern', pointing out that it 'would lead to the situation that a substantial part of rolling stock in the European Union would not be in line with European law'.MEPs approved the report on train crew certification requiring drivers and other staff with safety-related tasks to hold proof of their fitness, basic education and professional skills, but a proposal for drivers of international trains to have a specified period of experience was rejected.n