EU Chugs Ahead With Continental Rail Plan

     (CN) – Transport ministers for the European Union have embraced plans to liberalize markets for railways across the continent, the European Commission announced.

     On Thursday, the transport ministers passed new rules intended to open access to rail markets. The measures seek to increase access to rail-related services, break off national regulators from other public agencies, grant regulators sanction powers and promote private investment.
     In many EU countries, rail systems have historically been run by state monopolies, in part because the rail sector requires substantial, long-term investments.
     Liberalization, or relaxing of government restrictions, is supposed to increase competition, spur technological innovation and ultimately lead to better services and lower prices.
     The EU liberalized freight services in 2007, and passenger services followed suit in 2010, but some member countries have tarried in their compliance with EU rail privatization directives.
     In countries such as France, state-owned monopolies still dominate the rails.
     In the United Kingdom, which has pushed forward with an aggressive rail-liberalization program, customer satisfaction with rail services is at more than 80 percent. The number of rail passengers has also increased, after a rocky start with privatization of the UK rail sector in the mid-1990s.
     Rail workers, meanwhile, have been protesting the liberalization measures. European rail unions say privatizing the rail sector dismantles worker protections and leads to lax safety standards.
     The new measures must be approved in the European Parliament before becoming law. A vote is planned for this fall.

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