JANUARY 1 saw the formal establishment of a new public authority to oversee railway safety in France. Legislation to authorise the établissement Public de Sécurité Ferroviaire was approved by the Assemblée Nationale on December 15.

The move is part of the process of transposing into French law the requirements of the EU’s second railway package, including the introduction of competition between train operators. Under the terms of the Fret SNCF financial restructuring approved by Brussels last year, the French domestic freight market must be opened up for competition by March 31 2006 at the latest.

With its annual budget of €12m to €14m to be financed from a share of RFF’s track access charges, EPSF will take over responsibility for setting regulations on safety and interoperability, for audits and inspections, and for safety certification of new train operators. The organisation is expected to come into operation this month with the appointment of a Director-General and recruitment of up to 100 staff.

  • The transposition legislation also includes a provision permitting RFF to enter into public-private partnerships to construct and maintain infrastructure works, as well as funding new line projects. This could end SNCF’s current monopoly on railway maintenance activities.