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Europees Parlement Strasbourg

‘Current cooperation on track access charges is not satisfactory’

The current cooperation on track access charges is not satisfactory. Infrastructure managers could be more successful if they offered more competitive prices providing coherent pricing signals to their customers. New European legislation makes this possible, explains policy maker Frank Jost of the European Commission. Jost will give a presentation about the new European legislation at the Track Access Charges Summit on 12 April in Bern. 

What is the frame of the European legislation when it comes to access charges?

The objective of the European charging legislation is the optimum effective use of the available infrastructure. Operators only pay the additional direct costs incurred by a train run. Where the States want the whole infrastructure to be maintained they have to cover the funding gap. If they do not want to, they can allow the infrastructure manager to levy mark-ups to recover the full costs if that does not price out any market segment from the use of the infrastructure. For service facilities, the rules are simpler, but their charges can be decisive for modal choice and regulatory bodies should therefore not lose sight of those charges.

Can you explain why this new legislation is needed and how it is different from the current situation?

The principles are not new. But when the Commission found that they were not applied everywhere, Parliament and Council requested the Commission to adopt more specific rules to calculate the direct costs by 16 June 2015. The Commission adopted such rules in an implementing regulation which has been applicable since 1 August 2015 with a phasing-in period regarding the charges of not more than 4 years. As a result, infrastructure managers are obliged to demonstrate that their calculation of direct costs is done compliant with the implementing act.

How can it help the railway sector in general?

The main beneficiaries will be railway undertakings on some networks that benefit from lower and more predictable charges. Furthermore, infrastructure managers and regulatory bodies benefit from clear rules, providing more legal certainty.

What are advantages for the train operators of the Swiss system?

The idea is that the charge reflects that wear and tear of different types of locomotives. On the short run, railway undertakings benefit when they use ‘infrastructure friendly’ locomotive types, on the long run, they will consider the impact on the infrastructure as one criterion among others for deciding on the purchase of a particular type of locomotive. With less damaging rolling stock and longer maintenance cycles on the infrastructure, railway undertakings and shippers will benefit from a better availability of the lines.

Does it have any (positive) impact on the passenger or the clients of freight operators?

Competitive pressure is strong and railway undertakings will share a part of the advantages with their clients. A better availability of the infrastructure translates into more revenues for railway undertakings. But given the long life cycles of the equipment, some positive impacts will take time before they materialise.

Will the new legislation contribute in the harmonization and simplification of the of the TAC’s in Europe?

Harmonization and simplification are not desirable for the competitiveness of rail if that means a race to the top. But with the new rules one can expect that values of direct costs will drop for some networks at least, which is a certain form of harmonization. Maybe there will not be a simplification. Anyway studies tell that railway undertakings react swiftly and intelligently to pricing signals, as long as they are consistent, even when they are not simple.

What does it mean for international transportation?

Given rolling stock and drivers are more expensive in international transportation than for domestic services, charges for international trains should be lower, rather than higher to set that off. Furthermore, incentives set by charges for different networks should not be contradictory for international services. That is why, the EU has stipulated an obligation on infrastructure managers to cooperate on charges. If they do not cooperate, international services will always be priced higher than domestic services. Therefore, some experts request charging bodies for freight corridors. In the absence of cooperation on charges set by independent infrastructure managers, those voices will become louder.

What do you think of SBB’s approach?

The principle of spreading charges in accordance with the damage of locomotive types caused to the infrastructure is provided for in the EU legislation. It will be up to the Swiss regulatory body to assess the compliance of such a system with Swiss legislation. In the positive case, such charging systems can have a lighthouse effect for other infrastructure managers and if applied at a larger scale the incentives will be stronger.

How can the EU deal with the big differences between infrastructure managers in technological level en knowledge?

The EU offers various levels of cooperation for infrastructure managers, including at technological level and at knowledge level. But decision making is still decentralized at the level of independent infrastructure managers. In terms of charges, infrastructure managers could be more successful if they cooperated and offered more competitive prices providing coherent pricing signals to their customers. The current cooperation on charges is not satisfactory.

Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor-in-chief of RailTech.com, RailFreight.com and SpoorPro.nl, online magazines for railway professionals.

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