image: RFF / Jean-Jacques D'Angelo

Rail sector: continue track access charging measures for six more months

Railway associations want to prolong the regulation allowing to waive, reduce or defer track access charges in the face of Covid-19. The regulation would last until the end of June, but they asked for it to extend until the end of 2021. The European railway sector is still recovering from Covid’s impact and needs further support to remain viable.

Railway undertakings have suffered immense financial losses during 2020, which continue in the first quartile of 2021. Passenger services were affected with a 42 percent decrease of revenues in 2020 compared to 2019. For rail freight, this was a 12 percent decrease. These losses could prove detrimental for the industry in the long term.

The request to prolong the ability to lower or waive the track access charges was submitted to the EU Commission jointly by CER, AllRail, ERFA, UIP and UIRR. It concerns Regulation 2020/1429 introduced by the Commission on October 2020. The associations insist on keeping the regulation in action until the end of the year since the pandemic’s impact is still strong and might continue in the future. They also have several EU Member States by their side which consider implementing the regulation independently.

Regulation 2020/1429

The regulation aimed to relieve railway undertakings from financial losses due to the pandemic restrictions. Specifically, it authorised infrastructure managers to waive, reduce or defer track access charges for railway undertakings. The Commission introduced it on 7 October 2020, and it became active retroactively from 1 March 2020. The initial plan was to last until 31 December 2020. It extended once until 30 June 2021 because of the continuous virus waves, and now there is a need to extend again and secure the railway sector’s position for the whole year.

Many EU countries adopted the regulation with a positive outcome. Among them were the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Germany. However, railway associations ring the bell also for the viability of infrastructure managers. Implementing the regulation is always welcome. Unfortunately, though, infrastructure managers in countries that adopted it experienced financial losses 6 to 8 times higher than in countries that did not. Consequently, the Member States that put the regulation in action should also always provide financial compensation to the infrastructure managers.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

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