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Further integration of the European rail system: third railway package
The aim of this communication from the Commission is to revitalise the rail transport sector by improving its attractiveness and competitiveness. It covers the following aspects: driver training, passengers' rights and the opening-up of the passenger transport market.
Communication from the Commission of 3 March 2004 entitled "Further integration of the European rail system: the third railway package [COM(2004) 140 final - not published in the Official Journal].
In 2001 the Commission set out its objectives for the reform of rail transport in the White Paper " European transport policy for 2010: time to decide ".The present communication announces the third railway package. The Commission proposes the opening-up of services to competition by 2010 and puts forward proposals concerning the certification of drivers and strengthening of passengers' rights.
This third railway package comprises two directives and two regulations (of which one was rejected by the Parliament):
Proposal for a Directive [COM(2004) 142 final] on the certification of drivers
In its communication the Commission stresses the impact of driver training on safety. It considers that driver skills fall into two categories:
- general skills relating to the job of driver;
- more specific skills relating to line knowledge, the rolling stock and the operating procedures of the railway undertaking for which the driver works.
With the opening-up of the rail freight markets, a growing number of drivers will find themselves operating on the network of another Member State. The Commission therefore wishes to establish:
- a certification system attesting that the driver has sufficient general knowledge, authenticated by a licence issued to the individual driver that is recognised and valid throughout the Community;
- a series of certificates attesting to specific knowledge (relating to a specific route, rolling stock and railway undertaking) and allowing the driver to operate.
Proposal for a Regulation [COM(2004) 143 final] on passengers' rights
In order to make the railways more attractive, the Commission also wishes passengers' rights to be better protected - particularly with regard to reimbursement for train delays. The situation of passengers on international journeys is often less secure. The Commission therefore considers that the current international arrangements, based on the Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail (COTIF), are inadequate and do not directly create passengers' rights.
Access to information and fares, and the option of buying international rail tickets easily, are in the Commission's view the very least that is needed to make rail services attractive. In addition, the Commission wishes liability to be clearly defined in the event of accidents, incidents or train delays. On this last point, compensation thresholds should be set and the various channels for passengers' appeals clearly identified. Lastly, the Commission considers that greater account should be taken of the needs of people with reduced mobility.
In the Commission's view, these arrangements to protect passengers' rights will be all the more vital once the market is opened up for certain services.
Proposal for a Directive [COM(2004) 139 final] on opening up the passenger transport market
The Commission stresses the contrasts between regional, national and international rail traffic and wishes to take these diverse segments into account by combining two models for opening up to competition:
- under the first, a competitive procedure can be used to award a public service contract. In the Commission's view this model would work well for suburban and regional services, which transport the vast majority of passengers. It forms the basis of the Commission's proposal to modernise Regulation No 1191/69 on public service obligations;
- the other model consists in opening up access to the infrastructure for operators wishing to provide international services. This model would be better suited to long-distance services and to specific services where commercial innovation is likely to attract new customers.
The competitors will need to have:
- rolling stock and drivers authorised for service in the Member States in which they plan to operate;
- a railway undertaking licence in a Member State;
- a safety certificate issued by the national safety authority of each of the Member States they plan to cross;
- infrastructure capacity, in order to provide a regular service.
The Commission therefore wishes all international services to be opened up to competition on 1 January 2010. This opening-up also includes cabotage on international services (carriage of passengers between two places within the same Member State).
The Commission also points out that integrating Europe's railway systems requires technical harmonisation in order to ensure the interoperability of rolling stock and equipment.
A fourth proposal rejected by the Parliament
The Commission had also made a proposal for a regulation aiming to improve the quality of rail services. It was rejected first time round by the Parliament. In particular the text proposed establishing mandatory minimum clauses in transport contracts, among which there was a proposal for a compensation system in case of freight being delayed or damaged. It would have encouraged railway undertakings and their clients to regulate quality management contractually.