House of Lords
Session 1996-97

Lords Back Kinnock's EU Rail Strategy

A House of Lords Select Committee Report published today calls for a Community Regulatory Authority for railways and gives a qualified welcome to the European Commission's strategy to revitalise the rail sector in the Community.

The report, by the European Communities Committee, agrees with much of the Commission's analysis of the problems facing rail and on the need for radical change if rail's decline is to be halted, but warns that the changes required "may take a generation to achieve and would require a concerted political will throughout the Community".

    The report welcomes key EC proposals (in the White Paper), including:

-   the introduction of market forces into rail;
-   the negotiation of public service contracts between States and railways;
-   the transparency where subsidy is provided to support loss-making passenger services.
-   "trans-European rail freight freeways" to encourage long-distance freight to go by rail.
But the report questions the necessity of separating the management of rail infrastructure and operations into distinct "business units". It also doubts whether railways should be required to apply a uniform cut-off date to define their "historic debts" regardless of how those debts were acquired.

    Lord Geddes, Chairman of the Sub-Committee which conducted the enquiry, said:

    "The railways in most Member States face a major challenge if they are to regain some of the market share they have lost, particularly to road, in recent years. The challenges are huge, but it is important that the case for radical change is made. Broadly, therefore we welcome Mr Kinnock's bold and far-reaching White Paper. Everyone stands to lose out if rail continues to decline, but we look to the Community's Social Fund to cushion the impact on railway workers. The Community regulatory authority we propose must have teeth, but it need not be bureaucratic. It may not be easy to reach agreement on the role and powers of such an authority but we must confront these issues if the rest of the Commission strategy is to succeed".

© Parliamentary copyright 1997
Prepared 27 February 1997