AMONG THOSE who have vowed to force Europe’s national railways to face up to the calls for competition are a determined core of politicians who understand that the decline in rail freight’s market share to just 14% of tonne-km must be reversed. Another tiny step was taken on July 5 when the European Parliament voted to amend the ’railway package’ agreed by transport ministers in Brussels on December 10 last year (RG 1.00 p3). MEPs were in favour of full open access for national and international freight, plus rights to transit, on the national networks of all 15 Member States. This should apply within five years of the directives coming into force. International passenger services too would be opened up for competition ’by 2010 at the latest.’

This was a substantial departure from the previous compromise, not least with the inclusion of passenger services. This implies taking the separation of operations and infrastructure a stage further, the fear of which has already prompted several national railways to launch a campaign to hinder further moves in this direction. On June 23 German Railway chief Hartmut Mehdorn was vehement in his defence of the status quo. Not only that, he suggested that ’what happens in terms of the network and safety when operations and infrastructure are separated can be seen in Great Britain’ - which does not reflect figures showing rising freight and passenger traffic.

The vote ruffled feathers at the French transport ministry, whose communist chief Jean-Claude Gayssot finds the idea of competition anathema. But he is on shaky ground. More and more operators are becoming increasingly exasperated by the humbug that permits French companies to bid for and run rail services all over Europe while no foreign operator may trespass on French soil.