EU backs gradual privitisation of Europe’s railways

The European Commission’s Transport Council has reached an agreement over the political pillar of the Fourth railway package which calls for a “gradual” liberalisation of rail operations across member states.

During a meeting in Luxembourg today (October 8) the council backed the two underpinning principles of the political pillar which focus on creating more opportunities for private rail operators and splitting up large state-owned rail monopolies.

In a statement, the commission said: “Under the proposals, EU train companies would have non-discriminatory access to the network in all EU countries for the purpose of running domestic passenger services. They could either set up their own commercial services to compete with other operators, or bid for public service contracts.”

However, the council also supported an amended that would allow some public service contracts to continue to be directly awarded in certain circumstances.

The Commission has already reached an agreement over the package’s technical pillar, which aims to improve interoperability and create more opportunities for the supply chain.

EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc said: “Today’s agreement on the Fourth railway package paves the way for better efficiency, performance, value for money and quality of rail services in the EU. This will in turn benefit European citizens, companies and public authorities.

“I welcome that Ministers agreed that a gradual market-opening is a suitable way to reach these objectives. The swift adoption and implementation of the package is now essential. To this end, I look forward to a fruitful collaboration with the parliament and the council.”

A spokesman for the UK’s Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said: “We support opportunities for Europe to move towards a more liberalised railway where the sector can grow its market share, deliver even greater value and improve services for passenger and freight customers.

“The liberalisation of the UK’s railway has been a major success, with increases in rail freight and passenger journeys delivering benefits for businesses and taxpayers.”


  1. The big question is whether the government in Paris will have the courage to proceed with privatisation, thus allowing private-sector investors to acquire SNCF or parts thereof. Alternatively, they must follow the example of other European governments by allowing foreign transport companies to operate passengers services on the French rail network. However, I suspect it will be a long and hard job convincing the trade unions in this regard.

  2. Privatisation? It’s all about liberalising surely? No rules suggesting countries will have to sell off state-owned operators.


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