Spanish, French and German high speed trains in Paris.

EUROPE: Tabled by the European Commission in January 2013, the Fourth Railway Package includes six legislative measures aimed at 'completing the Single European Railway Area to foster European competitiveness and growth’.

This includes the opening up of domestic passenger services to on-rail competition in all member states, and the tendering of services provided under passenger service obligation contracts. To this end, the package includes measures to expand the rights of railway undertakings to access infrastructure and facilities, and requires greater transparency in the governance and funding of rail infrastructure managers.

Technical pillar

The so-called technical pillar consists of three proposals to amend the interoperability and safety directives and a regulation expanding the role of the European Railway Agency. This will become a one-stop shop issuing safety certification of railway companies and authorisations for vehicles to be placed on the market. ERA will also monitor the work of the National Safety Authorities and supervise the application of national rules.

The aim of these changes is to save time and cost for railway operators when submitting applications for safety certification, and for rolling stock manufacturers when submitting applications for authorisation to place a vehicle on the market. Operators and manufacturers wishing to run in more than one member state will submit their application to the European Railway Agency instead of making separate applications in each member state as they must do at present.

Operators and manufacturers wishing to operate in only one member state would be able to choose whether to submit the required applications to the authorities of that member state or to the European Railway Agency.

An agreement on the technical pillar was reached by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers in June 2015. Approved by the Parliament’s Transport & Tourism Committee in March 2016, it was formally adopted in a plenary session of the Parliament on April 28.

Entry into force is expected in late June, with implementation within three years. Member states may delay implementation by one year if they provide justification to the Commission and European Railway Agency.

Market pillar

The market pillar of the Fourth Railway Package consists of proposals to amend a directive on governance and market opening, a regulation on awarding public service contracts and a proposal to repeal a regulation on normalisation of accounts of railway undertakings.

This pillar has proved more controversial, and a compromise text was introduced by the Luxembourg Presidency of the EU in autumn 2015. Following trialogue negotiations between representatives of the Commission, Parliament and Council, a provisional agreement was reached on April 19 2016. This was subsequently endorsed by the Coreper committee of member state representatives on April 28, and formal ratification by both bodies is expected by autumn 2016.

The provisional agreement reached on April 19 aims to introduce a number of changes to the proposals:

  • to ensure impartiality of railway infrastructure managers, to guarantee non-discriminatory access to tracks for new railway companies, and to ensure better use of rail infrastructure;
  • to improve financial transparency in order to remove the risk of cross-subsidy between infrastructure managers and transport operators;
  • to open domestic rail passenger markets from 2020, so that railway operators can provide services across the EU. More competitive pressure is expected to lead to more frequent trains, and higher quality services better in tune with customer needs;
  • more competition and performance targets for public service contracts, so as to improve cost-efficiency and get better value for money for taxpayers. Competitive bidding would become the norm from 2023 for the award of public service contracts to provide passenger rail services, which currently make up a large share of all rail services. Any contract awarded directly would need to meet specific performance and service quality targets.

Fourth Railway Package legislation

  • Proposed Directive on railway safety
  • Proposed Directive on the interoperability of the rail system within the European Union
  • Proposed Regulation on the European Union Agency for Railways, repealing Regulation 881/2004
  • Proposed Regulation amending Regulation 1370/2007, concerning the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail
  • Proposed Directive amending Directive 2012/34, as regards the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail and the governance of the railway infrastructure
  • Proposed Regulation repealing Regulation 1192/69 on common rules for the normalisation of the accounts of railway undertakings