Italian trains

ITALY: The European Commission has approved under EU state aid rules a €687m Italian government package intended to compensate operators of commercial long-distance passenger rail services for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic over the period between July 1 2020 and April 3 2021.

The decision was welcomed by the AllRail alliance of new entrants to the passenger market, which said the Italian aid was ‘a model for the rest of Europe’ as it was ‘non-discriminatory, treats all operators equally and recognises the commercially driven, open access passenger rail services are not some kind of add-on extra but fulfil a societal need on long distance routes.’

Italian government measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus included a mandatory staggered seating reservation system that cut capacity by 50%, as well as limitations on business travel and meetings and the cancellation of events. Between late December 2020 and April 2021 there was also a ban on inter-regional travel.

Ridership between July 1 2020 and April 30 2021 was 90% down on 2019 levels, while the operators faced the additional costs of enhanced sanitary measures. This led to serious liquidity problems, which risked jeopardising the competitiveness of the rail companies.

In March 2021 the Commission approved a similar measure covering the period between March 8 and June 30 2020.

‘We continue working closely with Italy and all other member states to ensure that national measures to support all sectors that were hit by the crisis, including the rail sector, can be implemented as quickly as possible, in line with EU rules’, said Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, on March 2.