Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Second Report





COM(02) 18




COM(02) 21




COM(02) 22




COM(02) 23




COM(02) 24




COM(02) 25

Commission Communication: "Towards an integrated European railway area".

Draft Directive on safety of the Community's railways and amending Council Directive 95/18/EC on the licensing of railway undertakings and Directive 2001/14/EC on the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity and the levying of charges for the use of railway infrastructure and safety certification.

Draft Directive amending Council Directive 96/48/EC and Directive 2001/16/EC on the interoperability of the trans-European rail system.

Draft Regulation establishing a European Rail Agency.

Recommendation for a Council Decision authorising the Commission to negotiate the conditions for Community accession to the Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail (COTIF).

Draft Directive amending Council Directive 91/440/EEC on the development of the Community's railways.

Legal base:Articles 71 and 156 EC; co-decision (except (e)); qualified majority voting
Documents originated:23 January 2002
Forwarded to the Council:25 January 2002
Deposited in Parliament:14 February 2002
Department:Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Basis of consideration:EM of 5 March 2002
Previous Committee Report:None; but see (22660) 11932/01, (22776) 12597/01: HC 152-xv (2001-02), paragraph 2 (30 January 2002)
To be discussed in Council:25/26 March 2002
Committee's assessment:Legally and politically important
Committee's decision:For debate in European Standing Committee A; further information requested


  2.1  In December 2000, the Council and the European Parliament adopted the "first railway package", which, amongst other things, will open up more than 50,000 kilometre of the trans­European rail freight network to international goods services in March 2003, with the entire network following in 2008. In April 1999 the previous Committee cleared the document containing the package of proposals,[2] but considered it relevant to the debate on the Commission's White Paper on a framework for common transport infrastructure charging.[3]

  2.2  The recent White Paper, "European Transport Policy for 2010: time to decide" indicated that the Commission would propose further measures to revive the railways. A key aim of the White Paper is to shift the modal split from road towards a revitalised railway system. The White Paper proposes a programme with three types of measures to revitalise the railways: a fair charging system for all modes of transport to reflect the full value of the cleanest modes; continuing development of the trans­European transport network, giving strong priority to rail; and the construction of a legally and technically integrated European railway area. On 30 January 2002 we recommended the White Paper for debate, and this took place on 13 March 2002.

The documents

  2.3  In its White Paper, the Commission announced its intention to table new proposals to improve access to the railway network for freight transport and to amend existing directives on the interoperability of conventional rail systems and High-Speed Rail systems, as well as a proposal to create a European Railway Safety and Interoperability Agency. The Communication and associated proposals and recommendation are collectively known as the "second railway package".

  2.4  The first part of document (a) provides an overview of the five Commission legislative proposals. The aims of these proposals are: to develop a common approach to rail safety; to bolster the fundamental principles of interoperability; to set up an effective centre of technical expertise (the European Rail Agency); to clarify the role of the Community in the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF); and to complete the internal market in rail freight services.

  2.5  The second part of document (a) indicates the Commission's intentions for future action — both legislative and non­legislative — on both passenger and freight services. Further Commission action is expected over the period 2002-2005 in a range of areas, such as: improving the quality of services by opening the rail network to new operators, setting quality criteria and giving users financial compensation in case of non­compliance with contractual service obligations; removing barriers to entry to the rail freight market: deploying the ERTMS[4] control and command system; giving the regulators stronger powers and simplifying customs procedures; improving the environmental performance of rail freight services; gradually setting up a dedicated rail freight network; progressively opening the market in passenger services by rail; and improving rail passengers' rights.

  2.6  Document (b) relates to a common approach to rail safety. According to the Commission, the

"directive aims at guaranteeing rail safety by publishing rules which everyone can understand. It lays down a clear procedure for granting the safety certificates which every railway company must obtain before it can run trains on the European network. The objective is gradually to integrate the national safety systems."[5]

  2.7  The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr David Jamieson) summarises the document in his Explanatory Memorandum of 5 March 2002:

"The proposed Directive on railway safety seeks as a priority to modernise and harmonise the safety regulatory structure and safety methods in the Member States, and to ensure that responsibilities are clearly defined. It requires that there should be safety authorities in each Member State, independent of railway undertakings and infrastructure managers, with responsibility for regulation and supervision of safety. It also provides for co­ordination of these public authorities at European level. It outlines a proposed common minimum set of tasks for these authorities in relation to:

  • bringing into service of railway projects;

  • issue, amendment etc of safety certificates;

  • adoption of national safety rules;

  • supervisory tasks.

"The proposed Directive also seeks to remove barriers to further market opening by providing for the development of a harmonised safety certificate, valid throughout the Community for equivalent rail transport operations, Common Safety Targets (CSTs) for the railway system, and Common Safety Methods (CSMs) to assess if targets are being met.

"The proposed Directive would also introduce greater transparency in decision­making. It would establish Common Safety Indicators (CSls) to monitor the development of railway safety in the Member States and at Community level. Railway undertakings and infrastructure managers would be obliged to submit annual reports on the development of safety to their national safety authority, which would in turn publish a report each year and make it available to the European Rail Agency also to be established under the Second Package.

"The proposed Directive would also address the investigation of accidents and incidents. It would require Member States to establish investigation bodies independent both of the railway undertakings and infrastructure managers, and of the national safety authority."

  2.8  Document (c) concerns technical interoperability to provide improved cross-border rail services. According to the Commission:

"experts have come up with solutions providing the technical interoperability needed in order to operate transfrontier services and cut rolling stock costs on the high-speed network. The Commission proposes drawing on this experience and changing working methods so that faster progress can be made on interoperability on the conventional network. Geographically, interoperability must extend to the entire open network."

  2.9  The document specifically proposes amendments to two interoperability Directives: Council Directive 96/48/EC and Directive 2001/16/EC. Council Directive 96/48/EC covers the interoperability of the trans­European high­speed rail system and the proposed amendments will bring it into line with Council Directive 2001/16/EC on the interoperability of the trans­European conventional rail network. Document (c) also extends the geographical scope of Directive 2001/16/EC to ensure consistency between the availability of access rights to international freight services under Directive 2001/12/EC and the ability, through interoperability, to take full advantage of those rights.

  2.10  Document (d) provides for the establishment of a European Rail Agency (ERA) in order to provide objective technical expertise at a European level. According to the Commission:

"This Agency, with around 100 staff, will coordinate the groups of technical experts seeking common solutions on safety and interoperability. It will submit proposals for decisions on these subjects to the Commission, which will adopt them once they have been endorsed by the committees of representatives of the Member States. The Agency will also play a liaison role between the different competent national authorities. It could be in operation by 2004­2005."

  2.11  The Minister says:

"The proposed agency would have no autonomous decision­making powers, but would provide technical support to decisions made by the Commission (through a committee of Member States representatives) and act as a broader advisory body to the Commission. In its role of supporting the Commission's decision­making, it would in particular be responsible for coordinating development work on Technical Standards for Interoperability (TSIs) and the CSTs and CSMs introduced by the proposed Safety Directive, with support from industry experts. The Agency would also have to consult interested parties, including the representatives of railway customers. The advisory role would primarily, be to provide a neutral technical opinion in cases where there were safety or interoperability issues relating to rights of access and players from several Member States were involved."

  2.12  Document (e) is a recommendation for a decision on Community accession to the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF). According to the Commission:

"This organisation drafts regulations on, for example, the carriage of dangerous goods by rail or technical standards applicable to railway material. It is therefore essential for the Community to accede to the OTIF Convention so that it can exercise its powers on rail transport within OTIF."

  2.13   According to the Minister this,

"reflects the Commission's view that certain areas covered by the Convention as amended by the Vilnius Protocol of 1999 are now the exclusive competence of the Community. As a result, the Commission believes that Member States can no longer ratify the Vilnius Protocol on their own outside the framework of the Community institutions. It recommends that the Community accede to the COTIF Convention in order to exercise its exclusive powers in certain aspects of the railway sector covered by the Convention, and to co­ordinate the Member States positions more closely in the areas for which they share responsibility."

  2.14  Document (f) proposes further amendment to Directive 91/440/EC to complete the liberalisation of rail freight services. After the first railway package opened up the market just for international freight services, the Commission now proposes,

"opening up the national freight markets as well. To this end, the Commission proposes opening up the entire network sooner, by 2006, allowing for the time which it will take to adopt and implement its proposal."

  2.15  The Minister says:

"This would amend the existing Council Directive 91/440/EEC (as amended by Council Directive 2001/12/EC) to open domestic rail freight markets, including the possibility of cabotage, to stimulate competition and innovation; and would delete the provisions which allow Member States to limit access for international rail freight services to the trans­European rail freight network (the TERFN) for a transitional period until 2008."

The Government's view

  2.16  The Minister set out the Government's position on the five proposals. He says:

"The Government shares the Commission's objective of enhancing the role of railways in our transport system through greater efficiency and higher quality service. It therefore broadly supports the Communication and its accompanying draft legislative proposals.

"As far as the draft safety directive is concerned, the Commission's proposals are broadly compatible with Lord Cullen's recent recommendations on rail safety management in Great Britain, in particular his proposal for the setting up of an independent railway accident investigation body and the establishment of an independent Rail Industry Safety Body. The Government considers that the proposal for the development of Common Safety Targets needs careful examination as it potentially has implications for costs, or may undermine existing safety levels, if current performance differs from the targets. The costs and benefits of this proposal need much more detailed exposition than is provided in the Commission document. The Government will also seek to ensure that the proposal that national safety authorities should adopt new national safety rules does not undermine the principle that responsibility for safe management of the railway rests with the industry not the safety regulator.

"The draft Directive also applies to the Channel Tunnel infrastructure, which is subject to joint Anglo­French regulation in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Canterbury of 1986. We shall be examining jointly with the French Government the potential implications for the existing system of binational safety regulation, which is an essential feature of the Channel Tunnel project.

"We support the objectives of the Commission's strategy on railways interoperability, which aims to reduce costs and facilitate market opening. We shall, however, want to seek further information on, and consider carefully, the balance between costs and benefits from the proposal to extend interoperability requirements to the whole European rail network.

"The proposal for a European Rail Agency (ERA) is for a technical advisory body on interoperability and safety matters, staffed by industry experts; with formal decisions made by the Commission on the advice of the Member States. The Government supports in principle the creation of a central source of industry technical expertise. A considerable amount of worthwhile work remains to be done to develop common standards, indicators etc. The Government also supports the proposal that the ERA will act solely in an advisory capacity to the Commission and will not have autonomous executive powers. There are, however, some detailed issues that need to be explored about its role (particularly in investigating the activities of other bodies) and its governance (in particular the composition of the administrative board).

"The Government supports in principle the proposal that the European Community should accede to the COTIF convention. We accept that competence in certain matters covered by the new Vilnius Protocol is now within the exclusive competence of the Community. However, the detailed proposals in the draft mandate for the Community's rights to declare competence need further examination to ensure that the proposed extension of Community competence is appropriate. On timing, it appears that the Community cannot become a signatory until after the 1999 Vilnius Protocol is in force. There are also some more detailed issues to pursue to ensure that the individual and collective influence of EU Member States on OTIF's management and work programme is not undermined.

"The proposals for acceleration and completion of liberalisation of rail freight are welcome. These proposals could provide additional market opportunities for UK operators elsewhere in the EU. Even without new market entry, these proposals would provide welcome additional pressure for a more commercial approach by incumbent freight operators on the continent which would benefit UK operators presently engaged in cooperative arrangements with these companies. The market in Great Britain is already largely open. One significant exception is access to railways in ports and some freight terminals. Rights of access to those railways in connection with international rail freight traffic are required by Directive 2001/12/EC. This proposal would extend those rights to include domestic traffic, potentially enhancing market opportunities for rail freight operators.

"The Commission's Communication also flags up further measures — some legislative, some not — that it intends to develop over the next five years to take forward the completion of the single market in rail transport. The Government's preliminary view is that further action in all these areas is justified. However, the specific policy implications will only become clear as detailed proposals are tabled. The Government will continue to participate fully in consultations on these further measures."


  2.17  In its recent White Paper on European transport the Commission gave notice that it would propose a series of measures to provide for greater rail safety and interoperability and to open further the rail freight market. This package of measures is presented by the Commission as a way of breaking down the barriers between the fifteen "compartmentalised and closed national rail systems" in order to help create a true internal market in rail freight services and bring about improved rail services across Europe. According to the Commission, only 8% of goods are carried by rail today, compared with 21% in 1970 and "the average speed of international rail freight services has fallen below 18 km/h, slower than an icebreaker clearing the way for shipping in the Baltic Sea." The Commission contrasts this with the USA, where rail carries 40% of freight traffic.

  2.18  We note that a number of the measures the Commission proposes to address this problem reflect British practice in many important respects. This is hardly surprising, since the rail system in the UK is more privatised and liberalised than those in the rest of Europe. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that the Commission's proposals are sound. For example, it is not clear that separating track and train operations, as in the UK, is the best way to organise a railway.

  2.19  The proposal to improve rail safety is another area of concern. The overall aim is, of course, to be welcomed. However, as we noted when we considered the White Paper, the costs of installing the European Train Control System favoured by the Commission may be disproportionately high relative to the number of lives it is expected to save, especially compared with what could be achieved by investing the same resources in reducing road accidents, particularly in towns.

  2.20  The Commission indicates that further action may be proposed in a number of areas, including improving the quality of services by opening the rail network to new operators, setting quality criteria and giving users financial compensation in case of non­compliance with contractual service obligations, removing barriers to entry to the rail freight market, and improving rail passengers' rights. We note the Commission's intentions and will consider the specific proposals in due course.

  2.21  The recent debate on the White Paper on European Transport was a wide-ranging one and covered railways to only a limited extent. The six documents considered here are a comprehensive and detailed set of proposals for the railways, and we are therefore recommending them for debate in European Standing Committee A. Such a debate will provide an opportunity for Members to comment on the specific proposals for revitalising the railways and also on the various measures that the Commission has indicated it is likely to put forward in the future.

2   The package included: amendments to Directive 91/440/EEC to provide further separation in accounting between rail infrastructure and operations; amendments to Directive 95/18/EC on railway licensing to extend the current EU regime for licensing international operators to all rail services across the EU, both domestic and international; a proposed Directive covering infrastructure charges and the allocation of train paths; and a related Commission Working Paper.  Back

3  That debate took place on 10 March 1999 in European Standing Committee A. Back

4  European Rail Traffic Management System harmonising railway signalling and telecommunications systems (see IP 01/614 of 26 April 2001). This system is the end-product of an integrated development and demonstration programme partly funded by the European Union, first as part of a research programme and then in the context of development of the trans-European networks.  Back

5  Revitalising the railways: Commission makes proposals to speed up establishment of an integrated railway area

IP/02/118, Date : 23/01/2002


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