Rail transport: putting the concepts of public service in the general interest and the interests of users at the centre of the Commission’s action

Rail transport: putting the concepts of public service in the general interest and the interests of users at the centre of the Commission’s action

On 7 October 2020, French member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julie Lechanteux of the Identity and Democracy Group posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:

“The UK’s rail passenger system, privatised in 1993 by the government of John Major, has been definitively completed by Covid-19. The sector had been fragmented into a multitude of separate owners, operators and service providers who rarely worked for the benefit of users.

Significant parts of the rail network had been handed over to obscure owners of rolling stock leasing companies. Prices had increased inexorably, while punctuality and quality of service deteriorated.

It can be argued, therefore, that the European Union is lagging behind, because while the UK is now considering a structural reform (the Williams Rail Review) going in the opposite direction to the changes introduced in 1993, the Commission is continuing to plough ahead with privatisation and the opening up of the rail transport sector to competition. Since 2001, we have had four rail packages in the space of 15 years aimed at completing the Single European Rail Area.

Given the failure of Britain’s neoliberal experience, does the Commission intend to reconsider its policy and focus instead on the concepts of public service in the general interest and the interests of users?”

On 28 January 2021, Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean responded on behalf of the European Commission stating: “The Commission’s policy already focuses on key role of public services, including in the rail passenger sector, and EU legislation does not impose or even recommend rail privatisation.

The fourth Railway Package aims notably to open domestic passenger railways to new entrants in order to promote a more competitive market and better quality services at a lower cost. This is without prejudice to the possibility of Member States to act in the field of public passenger transport to guarantee the provision of services of general interest. Pursuant to Regulation (EC) No 1370/2007, where the market cannot deliver the socially desired level of public services, competent authorities can tender such services competitively, based on a set of clearly defined specifications and quality criteria in return for adequate compensation. This policy does not need to be reconsidered, but implemented.”

Source: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2020-005498_EN.html

Photo Credit : https://pixabay.com/photos/train-station-platform-railway-3384786/

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