The need to agree on how to separate track from train operators and to balance growth, quality of service and working conditions were the main points raised by transport and tourism MEPs and experts at a hearing on the 4th railway package on Tuesday. Uniform rules on safety certification and interoperability will be key to creating a single EU rail area, MEPs agreed.

MEPs and experts said that uniform rules on safety and technical standards would lead to higher interoperability, creating more competition and better services, provided that the role of the European Rail Agency was strengthened. Brian Simpson (S&D, UK), chair of the transport and tourism committee, called on railway companies to change their attitude. “If we had the same situation in aviation as we have in railways, not a single Airbus would fly across Europe,” he said.

MEPs and experts differed on how to achieve the aim of unbundling infrastructure managers and rail operators set out in the Commission proposal. Representatives of regulatory authorities and railway operators said good oversight by regulatory bodies was more important than full separation of track and train.

Some MEPs were concerned about costs and reduced service quality. Others said distortions in competition and discrimination against new operators must be avoided. There were also differences over the extent to which the market should be opened up.

Next steps

Rapporteurs will present their draft reports on the 4th Railway Package in July, with a vote in committee scheduled for November.