(CN) – European Union transport ministers want to accelerate the opening up of continental railroad systems, which historically have been national undertakings in Europe.
EU transport ministers approved new rules last week, to increase access to rail services, break off national regulators from other public agencies, and grant regulators sanctioning powers and promote private investment, the European Commission announced.
In many EU countries, rail systems have historically been run by state monopolies, in part because railroads require substantial, long-term investments. Liberalization, or relaxing of government restrictions, is intended to increase competition, spur technological innovation and bring better service and lower prices.
The EU liberalized freight services in 2007 and passenger services in 2010, but some member countries have tarried in complying with EU rail privatization directives.
In France, state-owned monopolies still dominate the rails.
In the United Kingdom, which has aggressively liberalized its railroads, customer satisfaction with rail services has been polled more than 80 percent. The number of UK rail passengers also increased, after a rocky start of privatization in the mid-1990s.
But rail workers 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.