Railways, once the dominant means of transport, were relegated by the car in the 1960s. In the early 1990s, railway transport represented around 15% of freight transport in the European Community, whereas twenty years before it represented practically the double. The bulky organisation of the railways has not given them sufficient flexibility to structure their service to new transport requirements, to the "European dimension" and to competition from other modes of transport. The Member States must shoulder part of the blame for the unfortunate situation in which their railways find themselves. They oblige the railways to bend to the requirements of public service and regional development, which is not required of their private competitors, the road hauliers, while not raising the capital endowment of railway undertakings in line with this obligation. This forces the railways into the red and hampers their modernisation.
However, greater integration of the Union transport sector is an essential element of the completion of the internal market, and the railways are a vital part of the Union transport sector moving towards achieving sustainable mobility. Hence, a directive establishes a single European railway area [Directive 2012/34, last amended by Directive 2016/230]. It applies to the use of railway infrastructure for domestic and international rail services. It lays down: (a) the rules applicable to the management of railway infrastructure and to rail transport activities of the railway undertakings established or to be established in a Member State; (b) the criteria applicable to the issuing, renewal or amendment of licences by a Member State intended for railway undertakings which are or will be established in the Union; and (c) the principles and procedures applicable to the setting and collecting of railway infrastructure charges and the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity. Still, exclusions from the scope of the directive apply to railway undertakings which only operate urban, suburban or regional services on local and regional stand-alone networks for transport services on railway infrastructure or on networks intended only for the operation of urban or suburban rail services.
Rail freight transport has been completely liberalised in the EU since the start of 2007, for both national and international services [Regulation 913/2010, last amended by Regulation 1316/2013]. This means that any licensed EU railway company with the necessary safety certification can apply for capacity and offer national and international freight services by rail throughout the Union. The market for international rail passenger services has been liberalised in the EU from 1 January 2010. However, undertakings applying for a licence to the European railway market must meet specified standards of financial fitness and professional competence. As well as encouraging greater competition within national markets, EU legislation gives rail operators the ability to run services in and between other EU countries, opening up cross-border competition. Thus, any licensed, certified rail company established in the EU is in principle able to offer rail services, and in doing so has the right to pick up and set down passengers at any station along an international route.
Harmonised technical specifications ensure the uninterrupted movement of high-speed trains throughout the European Union as well the interoperability of the trans-European conventional rail system [Directive 2016/797]. Multimodal transport is encouraged by granting European financial assistance to improve the environmental performance of the freight transport system (Marco Polo programme) [Regulation 1692/2006].
A regulation establishes rights and obligations for rail passengers in order to improve the effectiveness and attractiveness of international rail passenger transport [Regulation 1371/2007]. The rules regard notably: the information to be provided by railway undertakings, the conclusion of transport contracts and the issuing of tickets; the liability of railway undertakings and their insurance obligations for passengers and their luggage; the obligations of railway undertakings to passengers in cases of delay; the protection of, and assistance to, disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility travelling by rail; and the definition and monitoring of service quality standards, the management of risks to the personal security of passengers and the handling of complaints.
The European Railway Agency plays a key role in technically aligning the railway systems [Regulation 2016/796]. Working in close liaison with experts in the field, it provides technical support for the work on interoperability and safety. The Agency's areas of activity are, firstly, the development of common safety standards and the development and management of a system to monitor safety performance and, secondly, the long-term management of the system for establishing, registering and monitoring the technical specifications of interoperability. A Directive on railway safety lays down provisions to ensure the development and improvement of the safety of the Union rail system and improved access to the market for rail transport services [Directive 2016/798].
Member States have adopted common rules concerning the standardisation of the accounts of railway undertakings [Regulation 1192/69], thus facilitating the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity and the levying of charges for the use of railway infrastructure and safety certification [Directive 2001/14]. Member States must, in particular, ensure that charging and capacity allocation schemes for railway infrastructure follow the principles set down in Directive 2001/14 and thus allow the infrastructure manager to market and make optimum effective use of the available infrastructure capacity. Rail transport statistics help formulate the common policy in this sector [Regulation 91/2003].