EUROPE: Formal proposals for amendment of the earliest European legislation on railway liberalisation were published on September 17, when the European Commission adopted the draft proposal for the recast of the First Railway Package directives.

The aim of the recast is to reflect experience with the introduction and implementation of the directives over the past decade and address a variety of detailed issues that have arisen.

To simplify and consolidate the legislation, the existing three directives in the package and various subsequent amendments are to be merged into a single text. In addition, the Commission says it needs to tackle some core issues which impede the effective functioning of the railway market. The recast focuses on three main problem areas: Competition, Regulation and Financing.

In terms of competition, the recast is looking to ensure improved, or in some cases guaranteed, access to rail-related services such as maintenance facilities, freight terminals, passenger information and ticketing facilities, which were not fully addressed in the original legislation. Precise rules will be established for addressing conflicts of interest and discriminatory practices.

Infrastructure managers will be required to publish annually a more detailed Network Statement, giving potential new entrants get a clearer understanding of the characteristics of the available infrastructure and its terms of use.

In order to strengthen regulatory oversight, the recast would extend extend the jurisdiction of national regulatory bodies to include rail-related services, to ensure that any access issues can be addressed. The independence of national regulators from other agencies is to be strengthened, along with their powers of audit, complaint investigation and sanctions, along with the right to initiate investigations on their own account. National regulators will also be tasked a specific requirement to co-operate in addressing cross-border issues.

The Commission believes that it is essential to strengthen the framework for public and private investment in the rail sector, and the recast makes provision for the establishment of long-term national strategies. It will encourage the drawing-up of multi-year contracts between national governments and their infrastructure providers, linking funding to performance and business plans. The idea is that this will ensure the operators greater certainty about infrastructure development, and provide incentives to improve performance.

Further work is envisaged on undertanding the nature of infrastructure costs and their drivers, in order to improve track access charging regimes, and the Commission believes that in many countries this should result in lower charges for train operators. The new rules will include provision for differential charging based on noise factors, and discounts to encourage investment in interoperability or cleaner technologies.