The liberalisation of Europe’s rail network has taken a step closer now that member states, the European Parliament and the European Commission have all agreed on a package of directives to open up the market.

Known as the First Railway Package Recast, it is hoped the deal will allow open access for all operators to rail networks and terminals, and better and more independent regulation, although 13 member states are currently in court for failing to comply with previous agreements.

UK campaigners say the model is already in place in Britain and is functioning effectively. Specifically, the package provides for:

  • Better access to terminals and rail related facilities, such as shunting, and independent refuelling for all operators without discrimination
  • Close co-operation and consultation between train operators and infrastructure managers, and a requirement to produce five-year strategic plans on maintenance, renewals and investments to improve the network capacity
  • A better and independent regulation of the market, as well as better collaboration between the regulatory bodies.

Britain’s Rail Freight Group Chairman Tony Berkeley commented: “We congratulate the European Parliament and its Transport Committee chaired by Brian Simpson MEP, the European Commission and the Council for reaching agreement.

“We also await with interest the expected decision from the European Court later this year on infraction proceedings against 13 member states for non-compliance with the original First Railways Package of 2001.

“If the Commission wins, then we hope and expect all member states to implement the necessary legislation without delay so that the benefits of full liberalisation, transparency and greater separation of infrastructure management from all train operators will, for the first time, create a truly open, competitive market in rail freight, leading to strong growth.

“The UK has had this structure for 15 years, and rail freight continues to grow – intermodal traffic grew 11% in the last year. We would like to see this happen across Europe.”

- Tony Berkeley has also recently written to Justine Greening MP, the British Secretary of State for Transport, highlighting key areas where Government support is vital for progressing rail freight growth

In the letter, Berkeley notes that: "The rail freight sector is growing successfully - in 2011/12 the volume of rail freight moved grew by 10%, and within that, the movement of intermodal containers grew by 11%, sustaining its year on year increase.

"There is continued investment in equipment and facilities to support this growth and improve the efficiencies of the sector. The rail freight operators and our members are also heavily engaged in progressing industry reform in a positive way, and in ensuring that rail freight interests are part of the emerging solutions on structure and cost reduction."

Priority areas highlighted for Government support:

  • Continued investment in the Strategic Freight Network in the next control period, including vital schemes such as Felixstowe to Nuneaton upgrade
  • Simple, stable, nationally based and affordable freight access charges
  • Formally establishing the planning framework for strategic rail freight interchanges in a National Policy Statement

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