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Transport MEPs back reform of domestic rail services
Easier access for all rail operators to domestic rail markets should give rail passengers more choice and better quality services under draft rules backed by Transport and Tourism Committee on Monday.
The new rules combine granting access for rail operators to use rail track and stations in EU domestic rail markets and bidding, as a general rule, for public service contracts.
Most domestic rail services across the EU are currently provided under public service contracts, many of which are awarded without a bidding process.
The new rules still need to be endorsed by the full Parliament in December.
Easier access to the market for rail operators should encourage them to provide new passenger services in EU countries’ domestic markets and boost business and investment. It should also boost improvements in service quality and innovation in the sector, which is lagging behind other transport modes in numbers of passengers carried.
Bidding for public service contracts to be phased in
Current rules for directly awarding these contracts to a specific rail operator are to lapse after seven years, leaving competitive tendering as the general rule. Incentives to move to a competitive tendering system even before this date would also be put in place.
Direct award would, however, still be possible, under new and stricter conditions. For example if awarding a contract directly is justified because it would offer better quality of service or cost efficiency, then performance requirements, such as punctuality and frequency of services, quality of rolling stock and transport capacity would be included in the contract, to sharpen the focus on passenger needs.
Member states could also limit a new operator's right of access if a new service would compromise the “economic equilibrium” of an existing public service contract.
Public service operators would also have to comply with applicable obligations in the field of social and labour law established by EU law, national law or collective agreements.
“Open access” to rail infrastructure and safeguards to protect quality of services
- Rail companies would be able to offer new commercial services on domestic lines from 14 December 2020.
- To ensure continuity of passenger services under a public service contract, objective economic analysis by the regulator would determine when open access can be limited.
- Special rules would govern the access of high-speed passenger services to rail infrastructure, with a view to developing the market for high-speed passenger services.
- Better safeguards and assessment of conflicts of interest would be required to ensure that infrastructure managers operate impartially, so that all operators have equal access to tracks and stations.
Gradual transition to competitive tendering for public services
- Current rules for directly awarding these contracts are to lapse seven years after the new rules are adopted and published, leaving competitive tendering as the general rule.
- Incentives to move towards competitive tendering even before this time, such as shorter possible contract lengths for directly awarded contracts, would be included.
- Awarding contracts without inviting bids will still be possible, but new, stricter conditions will apply, e.g. new performance requirements (punctuality and frequency of services, quality of rolling stock and transport capacity) to sharpen the focus on passenger needs will be added.
- Direct award would be allowed for public service contracts below a certain value or passenger thresholds.
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