A CLEAR indication of the European Union's commitment to the separation of infrastructure management from train operations came on June 5, when the European Parliament's Transport Committee voted 37:1 to adopt the Cramer Report on the implementation of the First Railway Package.

After considering 163 amendments, the committee endorsed the report, which calls on the European Commission to improve non-discriminatory access to national rail networks. The committee stopped short of demanding full institutional separation, ruling that the integrated company model is equally compatible under community law. However, it does call for full functional separation, to safeguard fair access as laid down in Directive 2001/14.

It will be interesting to see how the Commission reacts to the German proposal to leave DB in control of the state-owned rail network in order to support its market flotation (RG 6.07 p338) or to the agreement signed on May 25 under which Réseau Ferré de France has subcontracted the operation and maintenance of the French network back to SNCF for a further four years. Infrastructure managers association EIM notes that 'numerous complaints from new rail freight operators against incumbents' suggest that there is some way to go before true non-discriminatory access is achieved.

Insisting that 'absolute priority' must be given to the full implementation of the First Railway Package, the report calls for the Commission to initiate legal proceedings against member states that have not implemented the first two packages by the relevant dates.

The Cramer Report favours the creation of an 'independent and transparent regulating body' with adequate funding, and the MEPs have asked for a study into the possibility of harmonising access charges on international corridors, notably those where railways are investing to improve interoperability. This, they believe, would introduce better transparency and predictability into route pricing - and presumably make it easier for shippers to consider rail as an alternative to other modes.

As well as taking legal steps to end the cross-subsidy of passenger services 'to the detriment of freight rail transport' the report calls for a Directive to be submitted in 2008 to bring the Eurovignette into line with rail access charges and introduce compulsory road tolling for 'all lorries over 3·5 tonnes on all roads in the EU without loopholes'.

After almost 20 years since the first tentative steps into infrastructure separation, some evidence is emerging that on-track competition does seem to have boosted rail's flagging share of the European freight market (p418). But the jury is still out on whether the separation model is appropriate elsewhere.