The fourth railway package will aim not just to separate the infrastructure managers from the train operators, but also to strengthen them. Tasks such as track maintenance, investment planning and timetabling, now often performed by train operators, would in future have to be carried out by the infrastructure managers. Under the proposal, the Commission would establish and chair a new infrastructure management network at the level of the European Union that would co-ordinate the national activities.
The package will also standardise infrastructure managers’ areas of activity. A European Rail Agency would issue all train-carriage authorisations in the form of “vehicle passports”, valid throughout the EU, as well as issue EU-wide safety certificates for operators. Currently rail authorisations and safety certificates are issued by each member state. This process could take up to two years for each member state and cost up to €6 million. The Commission estimates that establishing EU-wide standards and certificates would result in a 20% reduction in time to market and a 20% reduction in cost, saving companies €500 million over five years.
Sharing the load
EIM, the association of independent rail infrastructure managers in Europe, has been asking for such EU-wide approaches for some time. “Dividing up responsibilities is inexpedient from both a cost and performance perspective,” said EIM executive director Monika Heiming. “For example, this is the case where an infrastructure manager, despite official separation, doesn’t have the necessary room for manoeuvre because a carrier is performing certain infrastructure management tasks.
“Greater independence is also vital for transparency,” she said. EIM strongly supports the strict separation between rail companies and infrastructure managers, to guarantee neutrality.
The Commission is hoping that industry voices such as EIM will be able to convince member states and MEPs of the merits of their proposal. But there is concern that DB and SNCF will dominate the discussion. Liberalisation and separation have been undertaken in some countries, such as the UK and Sweden. But British rail companies may have little interest in lobbying for a Europe-wide unbundling, as none of them are of a sufficient size to expand abroad.
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