Germany leads opposition to rail liberalisation.
The European Commission is to unveil plans for a further liberalisation of the European rail market. But it is likely to face serious resistance from a bloc of countries led by Germany, because it will propose mandatory separation of rail managers and track operators. The college of commissioners is currently scheduled to adopt the proposal on Wednesday (23 January).
Germany is fiercely opposed to the unbundling requirements envisaged, because its national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, owns the country's infrastructure manager. It can expect support from Austria, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The position of France remains unclear. It announced in November that it intends to re-combine the national rail operator SNCF with the infrastructure manager RFF, that it created as a separate entity in 1997. This suggested a possible alliance with Germany in resisting unbundling.
But since then France has adopted a more conciliatory approach, interpreting its planned re-combination as being in line with the Commission's upcoming proposal.
Germany appeared to lose another potential ally last week, when Belgium announced on 9 January it was to split its national rail operator from its infrastructure manager. Infrabel, which manages the tracks at present, will become a separate company from January 2014.
Key industry groups such as the European Rail Freight Association, which favour unbundling, applauded the Belgian move. It is now unclear whether Germany will have a blocking minority to resist unbundling in the European Council.
The approaches adopted by France, Italy and Poland are expected to be crucial in the voting mathematics.
The proposal will also aim to strengthen the role of infrastructure managers - whether they result from new separations or already exist. Tasks such as track maintenance, investment planning and timetabling, which are now often performed by train operators, would in future be the responsibility of infrastructure managers.
The Commission plans to establish and chair an EU-level infrastructure management network to co-ordinate national activities. Standardisation of certain activities would also result. A European Rail Agency would issue all train-carriage authorisations, in the form of vehicle passports valid throughout the EU, as well as EU-wide safety certificates for operators. Currently, rail authorisations and safety certificates have to be obtained from individual member states, which can take up to two years in each country and cost as much as €6 million.
The Commission estimates that EU-wide standards and certificates would result in a 20% reduction in ‘time to market' and a 20% reduction in cost, saving companies €500m over five years.
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