Press release
 

Third rail package approved - opening up the rail market and European licenses for train drivers

Transport - 25-09-2007 - 12:41
Plenary sessions
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A train station full of people ©BELGA/MAXPPP/Francis Apesteguy

Train passengers will enjoy new rights including on train delays

The House adopted three conciliation agreements on the third railway package. The agreements, dealing with the opening up of the rail market, a European licence for train drivers and the rights of rail passengers, were reached in June this year after the Council accepted the EP's final demand for a review every five years of any exemptions Member States grant their domestic railway networks from the rules on passenger rights.

The vote brings to an end a legislative process on passenger rail services which was launched in 2004 and follows on from earlier rail packages dealing with freight traffic.
 
Liberalising the rail market: international routes first
 
International passenger rail services within the EU will be opened up to competition from 1 January 2010.  However, the Commission must make an assessment of the situation no more than two years after the directive enters into force, to see if further liberalisation, to include domestic services, should be envisaged. Parliament's rapporteur on this directive was Georg Jarzembowski (EPP-ED, DE).  This conciliation agreement was approved with 541 votes in favour, 66 against and 20 abstentions.
 
He said: "We hope that the railway undertakings will take the opportunity to present their   passengers consumer-friendly offers that will be competitive to air carriers. This would lead to a revival of the Community's cross-border railway transport and to a better environment". Mr Jarzembowski regretted that no required parliamentary majority was reached at second reading for the opening of national railway services to competition. But he referred to the agreement reached in conciliation on a report on the application of the directive to be tabled by the Commission in 2012. "This report will propose further measures to the opening up of the passenger market. I hope that the Commission will keep its commitment to assess these market developments".
 
A European licence for train drivers … and one day for other staff?
 
Under this directive, which will apply from 2009, train drivers must hold a certificate stating that they meet minimum requirements relating to medical fitness, basic education and general professional skills. 
 
The European Railway Agency will draw up a report 18 months after the directive enters into force, to identify any other train staff performing safety-critical tasks who should be subject to a similar system of licences.  Following pressure from Parliament, whose rapporteur was Gilles Savary (PES, FR), no more than 12 months after this the Commission must present a report accompanied, if appropriate, by a proposal for a new law.  
 
Gilles Savary said he was satisfied that by 2012 crew members other than train drivers performing safety-critical tasks may be included within the scope of the directive; one of Parliament's wishes in the negotiations with Council. He could accept the proposal that the European Railway Agency will table a report, 18 months after the directive enters into force, identifying this staff and that the Commission, no more than 12 months thereafter, is to table a report accompanied by a proposal for a new law. "The agreement is an example of good social dialogue at European level and of social interoperability also for others than train drivers".
 
Basic rights for all passengers
 
The regulation on the rights and obligations of rail passengers was originally intended to apply only to passengers on international journeys but MEPs successfully fought to include passengers on domestic journeys.
 
Under the deal reached between the two institutions, when the law enters into force in 2009 all rail passengers will enjoy a set of basic rights (e.g. regarding rail companies' liability for passengers and their luggage, and the right to transport of people with reduced mobility).
 
Member States may exempt long-distance domestic rail services from the provisions of the regulation on non-basic rights (e.g. the right to take a bicycle on the train), for an initial period of five years, which may subsequently be extended for two further periods of up to five years.  Urban, suburban and regional services can be granted an indefinite exemption from those same provisions. 
 
When the law enters into force, compensation in the event of delays on cross-border services will be 25% of the fare for a delay of 60 minutes or more and 50% for a delay of 120 minutes or more, but only if the operator can be held responsible for the delay.  And eventually these arrangements will apply to all long-distance services.
 
Parliament's rapporteur Dirk Sterckx (ALDE, BE) said: "The agreement was a "honourable compromise" and a result of arduous negotiations. It had been very difficult to convince all Member States that a range of basic rights for passengers should be introduced. "The proposals were originally intended to apply only to international journeys, but thanks to this agreement we have succeeded in extending it to include passengers on domestic journeys".
 
He admitted that the exemptions for railway undertakings up to 15 years were not what Parliament had wished, but said that the agreement as such was important step forward. 
 
The chair of Parliament's negotiating team, Vice-President Alejo Vidal-Quadras (EPP-ED, ES) said: "This is a genuinely European law.  It gets away from old-fashioned obsessions with national borders and gives basic rights to passengers on all railway journeys (not just to those on international services, as the Council wanted).  In particular, passengers on all long-distance journeys will be treated the same, whether or not their journey crosses national borders."     
 
European Commission - new proposals
 
Commissioner Jacques Barrot welcomed the conciliation agreement as a fair compromise. He announced that the Commission will come forward with reports on the railway staff other than train drivers as well on the liberalisation of the national railway market.
 
 
REF.: 20070823IPR09782