EU Parliament Pushes Through International Rail Liberalisation
Associated Press: Sept. 25, 2007
STRASBOURG, France — International passenger rail services in the European Union will open to cross-border competition by 2010.
New guidelines approved by the European Parliament on Tuesday will be reviewed in 2012 to see if domestic train lines should also be liberalised, the EU assembly said.
A proposal to open those lines to foreign competition by 2017 has been rejected by countries where state companies dominate the market, such as France, Belgium or Austria.
Smaller EU states, such as Luxembourg and some Central European nations, also fear their national providers could fold if a giant company, such as Germany's DB, entered their domestic market.
But competition will increase on international lines, where any company from any of the EU's 27 member states will be able to run services.
In a package of rules governing the EU railway sector, lawmakers also voted in favor of setting minimum standards on compensation for delays on domestic and international routes, and of certifying train crews to show they meet professional, medical and linguistic standards.
Under the rules, which will enter into force in 2009, passengers could be compensated 25 percent for an hour's delay, if the operator is responsible, or 50 percent for a delay of two hours or more.
Also, operators must allow folding bikes on trains but may ban other bicycles if there is no space for them in the cars as most European trains are not yet designed to carry a large number of bikes.
The rules have already been backed by EU member states.
EU rail delay compensation ruling may let train operators off the hook
Press Association: 26 September 2007
Train passengers will get compensation for delays or cancellations under new rules approved by Euro-MPs - but only if the train operator is to blame, not if delays are caused by engineering work, points or signalling failures or bad weather.
The cashback deal forces railway companies to refund 25% of the ticket price for delays exceeding one hour and 50% for trains more than two hours behind schedule - but only if the operator can be held responsible for the hold-up.
That means severe rail disruption of the kind triggered by the storms which swept parts of the UK in the last few days would almost certainly not leave rail companies facing huge claims.
EU injects small dose of competition into its railways
By Renata Goldirova
BRUSSELS – European lawmakers gave their final blessing to a package of railway reforms, aimed at injecting more competition into Europe's rail networks as well as introducing an EU-wide set of passenger rights for minimum compensation when trains are delayed.
"This result shows the will of Europe to develop the use of railways and to advance towards the creation of a real European railway space", EU transport commissioner Jacques Barrot said on Tuesday (25 September) in response to MEPs' vote on the topic.
Under the newly-adopted legislation, international passenger rail networks within the 27-nation Union will have to welcome competitors from 2010, with centre-right German MEP Georg Jarzembowski saying "this will lead to more competition and more choice for the customers".
However, MEPs failed to push through their demand to liberalise domestic services from 2017, as several EU capitals – especially France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, all home to state-owned operators – were reluctant to set an exact date.
Instead, the European Commission will assess the market situation no later than two years after the directive enters into force and will subsequently suggests whether competition should be injected to domestic services as well.
Thorny issue of passenger rights
In addition, EU capitals have scored one more point regarding the controversial issue of EU-wide passenger rights, similar to air traveller rights which came into force in February 2006.
Under the new rules, all rail passengers will get 25 percent of their fare for a delay of 60 minutes or more and 50 percent for a delay of 120 minutes or more, but only if the operator can be held responsible for this delay.
Compensations will apply to international as well as to domestic travellers.
However, the directive will at the same time allow governments to have generous exemptions – altogether allowing for a possible 15-year-long transitional period for domestic rail networks.
"The fact that it was so difficult to persuade all member states to grant basic rights to rail passengers shows how poorly railway authorities treat their customers nowadays", Belgian liberal MEP Dirk Sterckx said in response to the parliament's concessions on passenger rights.
"That is a pity but we had to get the new member states on board", he added.
The travellers' rights will enter into force in 2009, with Mr Jarzembowski hoping "the odds are that trains will run on time much more often and railways will become a more popular means of transport".
European Parliament approves Third Railway Package
Railway Gazette: 28 Sep 2007
International passenger services to be liberalised on January 1 2010 after compromise agreements are accepted
Further liberalisation of train operations across Europe will come into effect over the next three years, following a vote by the European Parliament on September 25 adopting three 'conciliation agreements' on the Third Railway Package.
Intended to open up the rail market further, the Third Railway Package was introduced by the European Commission in 2004. Building on the reform of infrastructure management and liberalisation of freight train operations in the First and Second packages, the Third is mainly focused on passenger services and certification of train crews. Some of the proposals proved controversial with the EU member states, leading to lengthy negotiations between the commission, the parliament and the Council of Ministers.
The three conciliation agreements were reached by the Council in June, paving the way for the package to be returned to the Parliament for final approval. Each agreement covers one of the three main measures in the package:
* Liberalisation of the market for operation of international passenger trains
* Creation of a European licencing system for train drivers
* Standardisation of rights for passengers using long-distance and international rail services.
Proposals for the liberalisation of domestic passenger trains and licencing of other train crew members have been deferred but remain under consideration for the longer term.
International passenger services within the EU will be opened up to competition from January 1 2010, after parliament voted 541:66 to adopt the conciliation agreement.
The European Parliament's rapporteur for this directive, Georg Jarzembowski (EPP-ED, DE) expressed the hope that railway undertakings "will take the opportunity to present their passengers [with] consumer-friendly offers that will be competitive to air carriers", which he suggested would "lead to a revival of the Community's cross-border railway transport and to a better environment".
Jarzembowski regretted that the required majority had not been reached at second reading for the opening up of domestic passenger services to competition. However, the conciliation agreement requires the Commission to table a report on the application of the directive in 2012. This will include an assessment of whether further liberalisation should be pursued.
A Directive will come into force in 2009 introducing a European licence for train drivers. All drivers will be required to hold a certificate stating that they meet minimum requirements relating to medical fitness, basic education and general professional skills.
The Commission's original proposals envisaged extending this requirement to other train staff, but this was rejected by the Council. Following pressure from the Parliament, the European Railway Agency has now been instructed to draw up a report, 18 months after the directive enters into force, identifying "any other train staff performing safety-critical tasks who should be subject to a similar system of licences". The Commission must then present its own report no more than 12 months after the ERA study, "accompanied, if appropriate, by a proposal for a new law".
Rapporteur Gilles Savary (PES, FR), 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. "The agreement is an example of good social dialogue at European level and of social interoperability also for others than train drivers", he explained
The regulation on the rights and obligations of rail passengers was originally intended to apply only to passengers on international journeys but pressure from MEPs and "arduous negotiations" resulted in what rapporteur Dirk Sterckx (ALDE, BE) described as an "honourable compromise" extending some rights to passengers on domestic journeys.
When the law enters force in 2009, all rail passengers will enjoy a set of basic rights (covering issues such as train operators' liability for passengers and their luggage, and a basic right to transport for people with reduced mobility. 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, provided that the operator can reasonably be held responsible for the delay.
The package includes further 'non-basic' rights - such as the right of a passenger to take a bicycle on a train. However, Member States may exempt long-distance domestic services from these rights 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. Under the conciliation agreement, the Council accepted Parliament's demand for a review every five years of any exemptions from these rights which Member States grant to their domestic train operators.
The head of the Parliament's negotiating team, Vice-President Alejo Vidal-Quadras (EPP-ED, ES) described the proposal as "a genuinely European law" which "gets away from old-fashioned obsessions with national borders and gives basic rights to passengers on all railway journeys". In particular, he emphasised "passengers on all long-distance journeys will be treated the same, whether or not their journey crosses national borders".
Welcoming the conciliation agreement as a fair compromise, European Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot confirmed that the Commission would come forward with reports on the certification of other train crew and liberalisation of the national railway market.