To facilitate better use of EU rail networks, Parliament clarified competition rules for rail transport firms and rail infrastructure managers in a vote on Tuesday. These rules aim to stimulate the supply of international freight and passenger services and to improve their quality. Independent regulators will see that competition is fair.

"It took us two years of difficult negotiations (...) to guarantee better competition and lay solid foundations for infrastructure funding", said rapporteur Debora Serracchiani (S&D, IT) during the debate. "I consider that the unbundling of rail operators and undertakings is necessary, but we reached a good compromise on the monitoring of financial flows."

Separate and transparent accounting by rail transport firms and infrastructure managers should henceforth prevent any illegal transfer of public funds between these entities, even if they belong to the same holding company. Parliament sees this as vital to prevent distortions of competition among rail transport firms, along with equal access to train paths and service facilities such as maintenance workshops and stations for all undertakings, public or private.

In the event of disputes, independent national rail regulators will ensure that the rules are enforced. Collaboration among regulators will be overseen by the European Commission, which must assess, within two years, the desirability of establishing a European regulator.

Incentives to modernise trains and expand the network

The prices charged for granting train paths will include bonus/malus incentives to reduce noise and equip trains with the European control system (ETCS) for maximum safety. To ensure sound planning of rail infrastructure, meeting the needs of the entire sector, MEPs say that financing contracts drawn up by the public authorities should have a duration of at least five years.

Next steps

Once the new directive has been approved by the Council of Ministers, it will enter into force on the day after its publication. By December 2012, the European Commission will propose separate legislation to open the way to liberalising passenger transport on EU member states' domestic networks.

Procedure: Co-decision (2nd reading)