Railway package will 'not be the last of its kind'

Technical and political bodies have joined forces to work on the fourth railway package, but the work isn't over yet, writes Luis de Grandes Pascual.

By Luis de Grandes Pascual

05 Nov 2014

Despite legislative changes in recent years, rail transport has failed to become the kind of efficient, sustainable mode of transport the EU needs it to be.

The fourth railway package is currently in the final stages of tripartite negotiations between the commission, the parliament and the council. It is at its most critical point. Member states will need to transcend their purely national positions for the sake of a common vision of securing a genuine single, internal, competitive and cross-border rail market.

"The promotion of rail traffic, free from the shackles of the markets, will not lead to any abrupt changes in the rail model" 24

The rail share of the total transport market has fallen from 11.5 per cent to 10.2 per cent since 2000. In addition, consumers' perception of the quality of rail transport has deteriorated. Obviously, some national markets are doing better than others, but overall figures are declining. Organised network sectors are quite complicated to deregulate, and the electricity and gas sectors are clear examples of this.

This railway package will certainly not be the last of its kind. Over the decades, major national rail operators have built up a natural monopoly over rail infrastructure. However, these operators' attitudes have progressed, and they are gradually warming up to the idea of implementing the fourth railway package. It should be noted that this is a joint venture, in which those supporting political goals – opening up the national passenger services market – and those supporting technical goals – the implementation of a genuine European railway agency as the sole method of safety certification and genuine interoperability of the rail system – have joined forces to move forward together.

I am the shadow rapporteur for the technical side of things on behalf of the EPP group's directive on the interoperability of the rail market. The role of the European railway agency, which is simply a technical body rather than a consultative one, will be strengthened and granted powers, including within an executive capacity, to issue certificates and authorisations for the validation of European vehicles. Interoperability will serve as the basis for transferring these powers in an orderly manner.

However, this agency does not yet have the required capabilities to fulfil its purpose. Therefore, there is no need to rush to hand over all our powers. National agencies have proven that they have gained in experience and maturity over the years, and we need their current skills. Furthermore, we must make good use of member states' skills. In addition, this proposal should take into consideration the practical reality of the railway sector in different countries. Therefore, during the trialogues, which are due to continue up until late in the year, in a very ambitious schedule, the technical section will need to properly assess the factors previously mentioned.

In conclusion, I would like to stress that the promotion of rail traffic, free from the shackles of the markets, will not lead to any abrupt changes in the rail model. It will not result in a destabilisation of the economic balance of public transport services. Spain favours a gradual, equitable, reciprocal and transparent opening up of the rail market across the EU. This, along with the removal of the technical barriers advocated by those in charge of the technical side of things, will make way for the creation of a genuine single European rail network.

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