A provisional agreement to open up the EU market for domestic passenger rail transport and to ensure equal conditions for railway companies was reached by European Parliament and Council negotiators on Tuesday evening. It aims to boost the quality of services offered to passengers and to improve the performance of the rail sector.
The new rules would boost competition in two ways. First, railway companies should have access to the EU domestic passenger rail market from 1 January 2019 “in time for the railway timetables starting on 14 December 2020”.
Second, in cases where authorities decide to award public service contracts to provide passenger rail services, which currently make up the majority of passenger rail services in the EU, competitive bidding for public service contracts would be brought in gradually as the main tool for selecting service providers.
Competitive bidding for public service contracts for passenger rail services will be the norm. However, for six years, it will remain possible to award public service contracts directly. After this transition period, any direct award will only be possible on the basis of objective efficiency and performance criteria.
To prevent conflicts of interest and improve financial transparency between rail operators and infrastructure managers, certain safeguards will be put in place. Member states will be required to ensure that infrastructure managers grant non-discriminatory access to rail operators and that their impartiality is not affected by any conflict of interest.
For information on situation of rail market liberalisation across the EU see the background note on the right.
Statements by Parliament’s negotiators:
Wim van de Camp (EPP, NL), rapporteur for the proposal on award of public service contracts:
“European rail needs a strong competitive impetus if it is to continue playing a central role in the successful functioning of European economies. This agreement will result in more competition and more affordable rail services that can boost economic growth, be more sustainable and ensure that rail remains an attractive means of transport in the future.
Currently direct awarding, without any competitive bidding is the norm. In the new text we agree it should become an exception. Bidding based on objective criteria will improve the quality and affordability of the services for passengers and boost competitiveness for the sector as a whole."
David-Maria Sassoli (S&D, IT), rapporteur for the proposal for market opening and governance of rail infrastructure:
“Finally we have a good deal after 7 months of negotiations. All Parliament’s proposals have been accepted: on the powers of the regulatory body, on avoiding conflicts of interest between operators and infrastructure managers and on ticketing, but above all on open access for high speed rail.
The market is now open, even if this happens 20 years after it took place in the aviation sector. I wish this deal will give a strong boost to the European rail sector.”
Merja Kyllönen (GUE/NGL, FI), rapporteur for the proposal to repeal the regulation on normalisation of accounts:
“After all, I'm very happy that we are in a position to close these long negotiations on the fourth railway package. Especially the final approval of the so-called ‘technical pillar’ is very much anticipated by our rail sector and is essential to further progress in safety and interoperability of the European rail system.
I hope that this package will boost investment in both passenger and freight rail traffic, to provide better services for our customers and enable swift towards green transportation.”
The informal agreement reached between the negotiators now needs to be approved by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament.
The 4th railway package, tabled by the European Commission in January 2013, aims to improve the competitiveness of the rail sector and quality of rail services by introducing more competition in passenger services and ensuring a level playing field for operators, and reducing the costs to rail operators of obtaining authorisations and certifications.
The “market” pillar aims to encourage further competition in passenger rail services and ensure that networks are run in a non-discriminatory manner. The technical pillar of the 4th railway package define rules on interoperability, safety and the role of the European Railway Agency.
Parliament voted its position on the Commission proposals in February 2014. A trilogue agreement on the “technical” pillar was approved in the EP transport and Tourism committee in March 2016 and is scheduled for approval in the April II plenary session.