European Parliament unhappy with Fourth Railway package vote

The European Commission has voiced its disappointment at attempts by member states to water down legislation designed to open up competition in the European rail sector.

In a plenary session, the European Parliament voted to accept the first reading of the Fourth Railway Package, albeit with significant changes to parts of the legislation that aim to open up closed markets to private operators and cut ties between infrastructure managers and national rail operators.

Speaking after the vote, Commission vice-president Siim Kallas, responsible for mobility and transport, said: “This is not the strong signal that European rail needs and expects to increase its attractiveness.”

The vote did back the legislation’s ‘technical pillar’, enabling the creation of a single European safety certificate which is awarded by the European Railway Agency (ERA). The new system is expected to reduce the approvals process from around two years to just three months.

The legislation is, however, moving away from demanding a complete separation of infrastructure managers and operators, allowing members to opt for an integrated structure with a single holding company governed by stricter requirements for financial transparency.

Liberal Democrat MEP Phil Bennion believes that the legislation¬† said: “What is means in terms of rail infrastructure and rolling stock, it means the manufacturers of all of these goods will have a marketplace of all 28 member states rather than having to produce different specifications for all 28 countries, so that has the enormous potential to bring down costs in the railway sector.”

Another amendment will allow public service contracts to continue to be directly awarded in certain situations without being required to go through a competitive tendering process. Although the legislation will give operators the right to run commercial services in all countries by 2019, compulsory competitive tendering won’t be brought in until 2023 and even then it will be subject to certain terms.

UITP has been very critical of the revisions that will allow transport authorities to use their discretion when awarding rail contracts, saying it will “lead without doubt to numerous and never-ending complaints” and pose a risk to “well-functioning markets”.

Kallas added: “While the EP opens the way for reducing technical obstacles, today’s plenary vote is yet another demonstration of the tenacity of the vested national interests that proved more appealing to MEPs than the balanced and well-reasoned compromises reached in December by the Transport and Tourism Committee (TRAN).”

Pro-nationalisation campaigners from the UK’s Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union travelled to Strasbourg on the day of the vote to demonstrate against the principles outlined in the Fourth Railway Package.