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Communications link - European Union and Railroading        

The European Union is an economical and political union of its 27 European member countries of 450 million people. The Union has also a strong role on railroading in the member countries. 


 European Union as a regulator
The European Union regulates the actions of the railroading in its member countries. Basically, all railroading within these nmust be divided to 

  1. infrastructure, which is mainly publicly owned, and 
  2. the operations which are arranged more and more with the open market principle. Operators can also be seaprated from the owners of rolling stock etc. alhough in many cases the older operators also own their "moving assets". 
Basically anyone has been able to operate on the member countries freight networks from the beginning of the year 2007 and the beginning of year 2010 will mark the opening for free passenger traffic competition as well. While the Europe has been lagging strongly behind in freight traffic volumes and rail market share compared with the U.S.A. where the competition has existed for longer (in a way from the very beginning), the figures fro European Union from year 2007 show increase in volumes and given some time probably in market share against the road traffic as well. So the liberalization can be seen as a good act from the union. Some old companies like Fret SNCF (French National railwways freight division) and Trenitalia might disagree because they have been suffering heavily. However, for instance in France there has been a lot of new customers for the rail traffic and customers are also telling they are getting punctual service in areas where the SNCF earlier negelcted them!

For the currently already strong passenger traffic sector in Europe the changes coming are not so clear. The railroading industry is extremely capital intensive, so the changes might be slow and the players existing even today. 

Picture: A view from Gare du Nord, the most international of the Paris' stations: The German Deutsche Bahn ICE3 and the French SNCF TGV-Resťau unit 552 coexist here peacefully. In a few years, there might be a war of the passengers travelling between Germany and France, the same way as the airlines are competing of the passengers today! Both German DB and French SNCF are digging trenches already getting ready for the changes. 

While the Union has always been for free movement of people and goods between its member countries, some of the countries, operators, trade unions and other parties have been against this. Well, if you have operated for decades in an environment where no competition exists and the government always subsidizes the deficit, who would want change? The old models  can however be seen as inefficient and sometimes backward way to arrange things. An example of one still existing monopoly within EU, Finland: While basically open for competition the Finnish VR Yhtyma (the traditional state owned operator) has been guarding its lot carefully (wise from the business viewpoint, since monopoly is always easier to operate), not letting any competitors getting started with their business. RHK, the infrastructure manager on the other hand has made a demand that all the trains and locomotives should have a JKV machine installed. This device is and old Finnish safety device that is said to cost an incredible sum: 100'000 euros! Something that the existing museum train operators never could afford and which will provide an additional burden for any possible newcomers. 

Pendolino Sm3 Finland
The Union has now decided, due to the infrastructure bodies slowing things down in several memeber countries taht the approval of the new international rolling stock models for operations, that should any type of a train or locomotive be accepted in one of its member countries, it should have open access anywhere. This would wisely used definitely bring alternatives to the old railroad monopolies. Rationally, the national traditional operators were lobbying against this, keeping their monopolies as long as possible. This new rule should be in effect from the year 2010. Practical obstacles (axle weight, gauge dirrenrences, elctrical systems, etc.) still remain, but these are easier to overcome than the artificial restrictions. 

View point: "While the opening of the European Union Railroading for every one makes sense, there is nothing new in this: the very first "modern" railway in the beginning of the 19th century was operated the same way.  The railroading compny built the line and anyone owning a railroad car and a locomotive or a horse/mule could run a train on it." 

We will look at these beginnings closer durin the summer 2009.

 Developments outside the Union  

The opening of the competition is happening with the countries surrounding the European Union (or surrounded by it) as well. For example, the Swiss competed from the very beginning with their operators of the EU traffic and it is probable that other nations will follow the example. The Swiss operator BLS has won several competitions in European Union memeber countires and now operates tens of trains in Germany alone.    

BLS intermodal train in Germany


Created for by John McKey. Pictures by Ilkka Siissalo, Sanna Siissalo and John McKey.

 Also in this section 

Sources: European Union, the net, ...    

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© Railroad Reference 2004 - 2009  -  Created 13.1.2009 John McKey, Updated 27.4.2009