(CN) - Five European countries may face penalties if they fail to ensure that all rail companies can access their infrastructure, an adviser to the Court of Justice said Thursday.
Liberalization of the industry requires member states to provide fair rail network access for all carriers. Whereas large railway conglomerates once performed functions such as issuing access licenses, allocating infrastructure capacities and fixing usage charges, they must now outsource these duties to independent managers tasked with guaranteeing equal and nondiscriminatory use of rail lines.
Investigations by the European Commission uncovered numerous violations of the directive, culminating in formal actions against 12 nations in 2010.
Niilo Jaaskinen, an advocate general for the EU Court of Justice, faulted Spain, Hungary and Portugal earlier this year for failing to deliver unfettered rail access.
On Thursday, Jaaskinen made similar findings against another five other countries: Poland, Czech Republic, France, Slovenia and Luxembourg.
In the case of Poland, Jaaskinen agreed with the commission's assessment that the country is improperly passing on the costs of renovation and maintenance. EU law mandates that charges collected for minimum service and access to infrastructure correspond to the actual movement of trains and the direct operation of the railway service, her opinion states.
Jaaskinen nevertheless recommended dismissing some of the commission's complaints that Poland lacks an independent infrastructure manager.
The Czech Republic exceeded its authority by fixing access prices at the government level rather than allowing an independent infrastructure manager do so as required by law, Jaaskinen said.
Additionally, the country failed to establish a scheme to minimize railway disruptions and improve performance. Jaaskinen also found that it improperly sends appeals of rail-related complaints to its transport ministry rather than an administrative body.
France, Slovenia and Luxembourg also failed to set up an independent infrastructure manager, the adviser said.
In France, the French National Railway Company (SNCF) and Rail Traffic Department (DCF) act on behalf of the French Rail Network to draw up timetables and designate individual train routes. Slovenian Railways carries out a similar function for the Railway Transport Agency of Slovenia. Both breach the requirement for an independent office not affiliated with any rail company.
Neither country has implemented a performance scheme for railway companies and infrastructure managers as required by law, Jaaskinen added.
Rail disruptions are rampant in Luxembourg, the adviser found. Unrealistic timetables set by the country's railway administrator lead to delays that make it necessary for Luxembourg Railways to reallocate times for trains waiting their turn on the network.
Jaaskinen's opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, which will begin deliberating the cases in the near future.
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