PROMOTERS of open access regimes are chipping away relentlessly at the barriers put in place by European railways. Championed by European Commssioner for Transport Neil Kinnock, they are determined to see the walls come down. Their cause may be helped by divisions within the railways’ camp, but those entrenched in the no-change stronghold are not going to make it easy for newcomers.

It is clear that the European Commission is determined to force the issue, but judging by the reluctance shown by some countries to implement the 91/440 directive the men in Brussels will have their work cut out. Things are likely to come to a head after publication of a White Paper on infrastructure access charges for all modes of transport, with a separate proposal for railways, leading ultimately to a directive. According to Ian Hodgson of DGVII, speaking at AiC Worldwide’s Open Access conference in London on June 24-25 in London, publication is possible next month, but will probably be later.

The closely related issue of separating operations from infrastructure continues to stir strong emotions. Commenting after the ICE accident at Eschede in June (RG 7.98 p449), Swiss Federal Railways Chief Executive Benedikt Weibel said ’I am an absolute opponent of complete separation of operations and infrastructure ... The ICE accident in Germany has demonstrated drastically how closely interlocked the rail-wheel system is and how problematical it is to draw an artificial divide. The location of the points, the wheelset and the diagnosis system - all are inextricably linked.’

Kinnock pointed out on June 25 at the Franco-British Transport Forum in London that ’the share of the overall freight market taken by rail has fallen from 32% in 1970 to 14% last year and there is no sign of structural improvement. It is obvious that, if no effective action is taken by railways and governments, those trends will lead to the disappearance of rail from the freight market of many parts of the EU by 2010, with horrific economic, employment, transport and environmental consequences.’

In his drive to make railways ’more responsive to customers, more flexible, cost-efficient and more reliable’, Kinnock has a four-pronged strategy: