European parliament approves recast of 2001 EU legislation on liberalized rail services at first reading Nov. 16; goals include creating regulatory authority to enforce compliance with competition rules, reserving public investment for rail network

BRUSSELS , November 16, 2011 (press release) – To encourage new rail operators to enter the market and supply high-quality services, Parliament approved a recast of the 2001 EU legislation on liberalised rail services at the first reading on Wednesday.

"The rail system must catch up with other modes of transport. Today, rail freight's EU market share does not exceed 6 to 7%, and that of rail passenger services 11 to 12%, said rapporteur Debora Serracchiani (S&D, IT) in a debate on Monday afternoon. To bring about the single European rail area, rules to ensure fair competition must be strengthened, "particularly on cross-frontier routes", she added, also stressing that the proposed text protects both safety and the rail workers' right to strike.

A regulator to enforce compliance with competition rules

Each EU Member State should ensure the independence and impartiality of the national regulatory authority so as to eradicate discriminatory practices in fixing infrastructure charges, allocating train paths and allowing access to related services (such as ticket sales, repair and maintenance installations, stations and marshalling yards, etc).

Reserving public investment for the rail network

MEPs and the European Commission consider that financial transparency and separating the profit and loss accounts of rail network managers and rail transport operators who are part of a single integrated structure (holding company) is vital to ensure the future development and efficient exploitation of the rail network, whilst guaranteeing that public funds cannot be diverted to other commercial activities.

Parliament asks the European Commission to table a proposal by the end of 2012 to complete the separation of rail infrastructure management from the operation of rail transport services and open up national rail passenger transport markets to competition.

The text was approved with 526 votes in favour, 80 against and 36 abstentions.

Next steps

The Council is to approve its first-reading common position by the start of 2012. Parliament will then begin its second reading, which much be completed within four months.

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