TWO MORE STEPS were taken last month in the European Commission’s drive to introduce more competition on Europe’s national railway networks.

On March 3 the Commission published its Third Railway Package, and on March 17 the Council and Parliament reached agreement at a ’conciliation meeting’ (RG 3.04 p121) on the Second Railway Package. This now sets 2006 as the date for full competition in the international freight market, with domestic freight to follow in 2007.

The Third Package contains four proposals, all of which are contentious in some way. A directive aimed at opening up international passenger services to competition from January 1 2010 envisages that operators would be able to pick up and set down at any station on an international route, but arrangements would be made to safeguard public service contracts that may be affected.

Second is a proposal to grant international passengers similar rights to those accorded to air travellers, and the third is a draft regulation requiring railways to introduce minimum quality clauses in freight contracts. The Commission believes that ’the lack of quality assurance, particularly for international services involving several railway undertakings on the same route, has a negative impact on the attractiveness of rail transport and is still one of the major reasons why its market share is steadily declining.’ In response, the Community of European Railways commented that the move would lead to over-regulation on passenger rights and freight quality.

The fourth proposal is for certification of train drivers, requiring them to possess personal certificates attesting to general qualifications and valid throughout the EU; drivers would also need certificates recognising specific training related to local routes and operational procedures. In response, the European Rail Freight Association said ’the related bureaucracy burden is not justified’, noting that ’the benefits attributed to the scheme are economists’ benefits; there is little to show that they accrue to those who have to incur the costs.’