For a more ambitious reform of the French rail sector

Frédéric Cuvillier, the French Minister of Transport, recently presented to the Council of Ministers the major outlines of the reform of the French rail sector, initiated by the government last autumn. The French rail sector is already highly indebted and its debt is increasing by €1.5 billion every year. Left unchecked, it could reach €60 billion by 2022. In order to counter this trend, the Minister of Transport, is proposing to merge the infrastructure manager and the incumbent operator within an “umbrella public sector establishment”. The single infrastructure manager will therefore have the combined powers of both the RFF and the SNCF to manage the rail network. All the new entrants on the French rail market have been calling for this strengthening of the infrastructure manager’s powers since 2009, so as to improve the quality of service provided to rail operators. AFRA (L’Association française du rail) takes note of these decisions and recalls its own positions on the reform of the French rail sector.

It considers that liberalisation of passenger services before 2019 is necessary to ensure the survival and development of the French rail market.
 
This in turn would require:
 
–       the establishment of working parties, under the aegis of the French administration, so as to lift the technical barriers to the introduction of passenger services by new rail operators;
 
–       the introduction of experimental liberalisation of regional passenger services, both for inter-regional passenger trains (TET) and regional express trains (TER), at the initiative of regional councils;
 
–       the management of freight and passenger stations by the single infrastructure manager (GIU);
 
–       the granting of safety certificates and the certification of rolling stock by The European Railway Agency (in particular for international high-speed trains) so as to prevent any discriminatory practices at European level;
 
–       recognition of the specificities of, and differentiation between, freight and passenger services in terms of labour legislation, so as to maintain the competitiveness of rail operators and offer them the possibility of adapting their operations to a market dominated by road haulage.
 
 
These different measures require the rapid adoption of a full range of legislative and regulatory provisions that would allow the new rail operators to become effective players in the French passenger services market for both regional and mainline (high-speed) trains before 2019.
 
Finally, AFRA calls for the strengthening of the powers of ARAF, the French rail regulator.
 
It is also in favour of extending regulatory assent to all regulated services on the infrastructure (Network Reference Document and Station Reference Document) so as to guarantee non-discriminatory access to the rail network. Defining the economic framework is first and foremost a matter for the rail regulator. The college appointed by the government and the parliament must fully discharge its duties in this respect.
 
The new operators on the French rail market consider that these proposals would contribute to the transparency, performance and empowerment of market players. Experiments currently underway in other European countries clearly show that the introduction of regulated competition in rail passenger services improves the quality of customer service and leads to savings in operating costs.
 
This opportunity should not be missed at a time when the French government has called for the restoration of the financial balance of the French rail system.
 
And yet, judging by the measures currently being considered, the government’s plan is likely to fall short of meeting all its objectives.
 
L’Association Française du Rail (AFRA)
 
Founded in March 2009, AFRA (l’Association Française du Rail) brings together railway companies, which consider that the French market for freight and passenger transport will only be able to develop fully within an open, competitive and regulated market.
 
AFRA currently has the following rail companies among its members: Transdev, CFTA and Trenitalia in passenger transport; Euro Cargo Rail (a subsidiary of DB Schenker Rail), Europorte (a Eurotunnel company), Trenitalia, Colas Rail and T3M in freight and combined transport;l’OFP La RochelleandVossloh, rail infrastructure and technology companies.

 
Contact: Jacques Malécot, AFRA Chief Executive.
Tel: +(33) 1 75 44 87 59; +(33) 6 27 22 83 44