The EU rail network of the future

The free market has been introduced into the air and sea travel. Now it is the turn of the domestic rail industry to be opened up to competition. Users — or rather customers — will be able to choose between national operators (which currently control 90 per cent of EU passenger traffic) and foreign competitors for domestic rail journeys. And foreign operators will also be allowed to take part in calls for tenders for internal services in 25 EU member states (Malta and Cyprus do not have railways).

The “Fourth Railway Package” presented on January 30 by the European Commissioner for Transport, Siim Kallas, provides for the complete opening of markets and an end to national operators’ monopolies by the end of the decade. Among other developments, it will also foster greater standardisation of signals and regulations.

The package is expected to save rail passengers and companies €40bn over the next 15 years, and offer some breathing space to a sector of the economy which employs 800,000 people in Europe and represents sales of €70bn. However, it is also a sector that is in decline: in recent years, the historical operators in Belgium, Bulgaria, Portugal and Spain have all demanded state aid to help them cope with their difficulties.

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