Dealing with difficult questions

How effective has European rail policy been so far? Has it effectively guaranteed fair competition over the past years? These questions will be posed and answered during the international conference Effectiveness of EU Rail Policy

The conference will also address issues such as the rail policy making process itself, its current status as well as the future of EU rail policy. It will be held in Brussels on 22 June. The organisers of Rail-Tech Europe based in the Netherlands have initiated this conference due to the need for an international platform to discuss the effectiveness and progress on this important cross-border issue for the rail sector. It is being run in association with the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds in the UK, who have undertaken extensive research on these issues.

Changes and challenges

European railways have undergone profound changes during the last decade. In order to increase the intermodal competitiveness of both passenger and freight traffic, the European Commission has introduced legislation via the three Railway Packages. Under this legislation the member states have amongst other things separated operations and infrastructure, completely opened the market for rail freight to competition and will open access to the operation of international passenger services. The Commission is now considering further reforms, including possible ways of opening up the domestic passenger market. Resulting from the elaborate reforms there are voices expressing the need for strong regulatory national bodies that must supervise all rail related services in order to guarantee fair access to all international rail actors.
There have, however, been doubts about the effectiveness of these reforms. Partly these rest on a failure of the member states to fully implement them. The Commission is currently taking action to enforce the directives, as well as preparing a recast of them. But it is also argued that some of the necessary prerequisites for the reforms to be successful are not in place, in particular adequate funding of rail infrastructure in all member states, and charging for external costs on other modes.
Over the past few years, the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds has undertaken a number of research projects to contribute to the identification of best practices in the implementation of EU rail policy and to consider how effective policy has been. The results from this and other research, as well as the plans of the Commission and the views of the industry stakeholders on where we should be heading will be discussed during the June conference.

Themes and speakers
The conference has the following themes: European rail policy, regulation, competition in the passenger market and competition in the freight market. Each session will be followed by a forum discussion. High-quality speakers will share their experiences and viewpoints with the audience. In the session on EU rail policy confirmed speakers are, for instance, Maurizio Castelletti representing the EC’s DG TREN, Johannes Ludewig, executive director at the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) and Chris Nash of the UK Institute for Transport Studies.
Other confirmed speakers are Karsten Otte working for the German Bundesnetzagentur and Emile Quinet of the French Institute PSE-ENPC (School of Economics – École des Ponts ParisTech). They both share their expertise with the listeners in the session on regulation. Furthermore Michel Quidort, president of the association of the European Passenger Transport Operators (EPTO) and Jan-Eric Nilsson of the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI) will cover the theme of competition in the passenger market.
Michel Quidort commented: “Looking forward, rail will have a great future. Local and suburban rail systems will benefit from increasing road congestion and will be the most efficient means of transportation to access to city centres and conurbations. Regional rail opened to regulated competition will increase its efficiency and patronage and contribute to the economic and sustainable development of large areas. Domestic and short distance flights will be more and more challenged and high speed rail will appear to the sustainable substitute to plane on distances up to 1,000 km.
“Joint ventures between rail companies and other transport and service providers will appear as a way to improve and develop existing rail services from a customer’s point of view. Alliances will be on the top on the agenda, together with an Europeanwide consolidation of rail operating companies.”
The organisers, the Institute for Transport Studies and the Dutch Europoint Rail Technology Conferences & Exhibitions aim to reach a successful interaction in June between speakers, forum participants, industry stakeholders and other delegates resulting in sharing best practices, stimulating cross-border cooperation and effective progress.

About ITS
The Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds (ITS) is a freestanding transport unit and is the largest of the UK academic groups involved in teaching and research related to transport. ITS enjoys a worldwide reputation as a centre of excellence and in the 2008 RAE ITS again retained its position as one of the leading transport research centres in the UK. The RAE assessment panel identified 95 per cent of the ITS submission as being of ‘internationally recognised’ quality for originality, significance and rigour. Of this, 65 per cent was either ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’.
For more than two decades, one of the key areas of research at ITS has been the economics of rail transport. Our involvement with the rail industry was fostered by close links with British Rail and subsequently with successor organisations. In recent years we have undertaken projects on rail transport for the European Commission, the Community of European Railways, OECD, the World Bank, Network Rail, the British Department for Transport, individual rail operators, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), the British research councils and private sector consultants.
Examples of recent projects include European Transport Policy – Pogress and Prospects. Community of European Railways 2008-9. The aim of this report was to outline progress in the implementation of European transport policy since the 2001 White Paper (CEC, 2001) and to put forward a vision of what further developments are needed over the next 5-10 years to attain the objective of the creation of a competitive European railway area. Hence, the focus of this report was on issues affecting the rail industry, both directly, in terms of initiatives and legislation targeted on the rail industry, and indirectly, in terms of initiatives and legislation having a bearing on rail as it seeks to compete with the other transport modes.
It was concluded that good progress had been made on rail liberalisation, with many of the effects only just starting to show though, and that the immediate priority in this area was to ensure that existing legislation was fully implemented. By contrast progress with achieving fair competition between modes of transport, and appropriate investment was much more limited. To a large extent, then, we saw the policy for the next decade as a continuation and extension of that of the last, with an emphasis on achieving full implementation of the policies. But there remains doubt as to whether that alone will tackle the issue of achieving a sustainable transport system in the face of the threat of global warming.
In a recent paper (CEC, 2009c) the Commission suggested that the transport sector should aim to cut its CO2 emissions by 50 per cent from their 1990 levels by 2050. In pursuit of this, the Commission sees technological change on other modes: widespread use of electric cars, biofuels for aviation and so forth – as key measures.  But it will be difficult to achieve any of these developments without attention to transport pricing and the incentive of a much higher price for the use of carbon based fuels. That must in turn imply a growing role for rail in the markets at which it is most efficient – long distance and bulk freight, commuting into big cities, medium distance transport between major cities. The need for the next decade is to prepare the railway for this role by using increasing competition and carefully targeted investment on a major scale to raise rail productivity and quality of service.

For more information

Please register to comment on this article