Milano station passengers (Photo: Benfuenfundachtzig/Pixabay)

ITALY: Two packages of Italian government support provided to the rail sector during the coronavirus crisis have been approved by the European Commission under EU state aid rules.

One was a €270m measure to reduce track access costs for freight and commercial passenger operators between March 10 and December 31 2020. This was designed with the aim of maintaining stable services and preserving the benefits of modal shift from road to rail which had been achieved prior to the pandemic.

The Commission found that the measure was beneficial for the environment and for mobility, proportionate and necessary to achieve the objective, did not lead to undue competition distortions and was in line with Regulation 2020/1429 which encouraged member states to authorise a temporary reduction, waiver or deferral of access charges.

‘It is important to maintain the competitiveness of rail freight and commercial passenger operators with respect to other modes of transport, in line with the EU Green Deal objectives’, said Margrethe Vestager, European Commission Executive Vice-President in charge of competition policy, on March 24. ‘We continue working with all member states to ensure that national support measures can be put in place as quickly and effectively as possible, in line with EU rules.’

Earlier in March, the Commission approved €511m of support to compensate the operators of commercial long-distance rail passenger services for the effect of coronavirus measures between March 8 and June 30 2020.

Long-distance operators in Italy had been hit by a general prohibition on travel across regions, and a mandatory staggered seating reservation system that cut capacity by 50%. The government said it would ensure that no individual beneficiary would receive more in compensation than it had suffered in damages.