EUROPE: The European Commission is stepping up the pressure on EU Member States over their failure to implement fully or correctly the Directives in the First Railway Package, which are intended to open up the rail freight market to competition. This package includes Directives 91/440/EEC as amended, 95/18/EC as amended and 2001/14/EC.

On October 8 the Commission announced that it had sent ‘reasoned opinions’ to 21 Member States, as a follow-up to the ‘letters of formal notice’ which had been sent to 24 states in June 2008. During the intervening period, the Commission has been in dialogue with all 24 governments, ‘aimed at identifying possible solutions to the various infringements which had been identified’. As a result of this, a number of states had modified their national rules in order to comply with Community law.

However, the Commission notes that ‘more than one year after the letters of formal notice, despite the progress made by most of them, the majority of Member States still does not fully comply with the relevant EU Directives.’ In particular, it highlighted shortcomings such as:

  • the lack of independence of the infrastructure manager in relation to railway operators;
  • insufficient implementation of the provisions of the Directive on track access charging, such as the absence of a performance regime to improve the performance of the railway network, the lack of incentives for the infrastructure manager to reduce costs and charges and of tariff systems based on the direct costs of rail services;
  • the failure to set up an independent regulatory body with the necessary powers to remedy competition problems in the railway sector.

Following this ‘final warning’, the 21 member states have been given two months to solve the relevant issues before the Commission initiates legal proceedings. The countries concerned are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia and Slovakia.

‘Following the reasoned opinions sent today’, the Commission concluded, ‘Member States should go further in the reform of their railway systems, for the benefit of both railway undertakings and consumers.’

The Commission’s action was welcomed by the House of Rail, representing private rail freight operators across Europe, whose members have ‘lobbied for years for full liberalisation of the rail freight market, with competition, transparency and fair access to track and terminals’.

Also supportive of the latest step was the European Infrastructure Managers’ Association. Noting that ‘across Europe, the rail freight sector has posted a fall of 36% compared to the same quarter in 2008’, EIM Secretary-General Michael Robson said ‘the challenges posed to the railways by the current financial crisis make it even more vital that Europe act forcefully’, in order to ensure that ‘the most sustainable transport mode remains competitive’.