Friday, October 16, 2015

Rail Freight Boss in Another Scathing Attack on French and German Self Interest

Once Again RFG Chairman Spells Out Criticisms Very Concisely
Shipping News Feature
EUROPE – There are few associated with the rail freight sector who have such a concise and polarised view on the industry as Lord Tony Berkeley, Chairman of the Rail Freight Group (RFG) and a Board Member of the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA). In January he blasted the watering down of the 4th Railway Package and this week, with the EC/EP/Council Trilogues approaching, he has once again put forward his own views on the current situation regarding the actions of vested interests in France and Germany, saying:

“[France and Germany] have conspired to kill much of the governance parts of the 4th Railway Package that would bring competition and growth to the sector. Instead, they are dragging the whole sector into what could be terminal decline – on the basis that, if DB and SNCF fail, they will ensure that no other rail company will succeed; the winner will be road transport. In Germany, there are reports that DB is in severe financial trouble, seeking to sell off parts of Arriva and DB Schenker and cutting 30% of its freight network.”

Berkeley claims that a senior DB manager admitted at a conference in May ‘DB cannot survive without transferring funds from Infrastructure Manager to its Railway Undertakings’. This refers back to the demands for ‘unbundling’ the DB group which was has been called for over several years and yet has been stoutly resisted by the German authorities despite continual criticism that it is flaunting anticompetitive regulations by subsidising one part of its operation using funds from another, something Berkeley calls the country’s ‘very strong actions against any liberalisation and transparency proposals in the 4th Railway Package’. He continues:

“In Germany, will [DB] sell its assets to competitors to enable them to take it over? The general rail situation in France has clearly got worse as a result of the reintegration of SNCF and RFF into a vertically integrated monolith that does not seem to know what it is doing. SNCF is said to be the most hated company in France and, according to La Fédération Nationale des Associations d'Usagers des Transports (FNAUT), ‘The infrastructure is degraded, lines are closed and the quality of the services is no longer acceptable. Increases in passenger fares and freight access charges are driving customers to road.’

”Now with the French Transport Minister stating publicly that transparency should be put into the system, taxpayers will discover how much money is actually spent on what and where. In the meantime, SNCF is still trying to stifle competition in the passenger sector by seeking to delay it until 2030, by which time its senior management will have retired; it is also doing its best to wreck any attempts by freight competitors to improve their service quality and grow.

”SNCF is also in trouble financially, so their easy way out is to put up access charges, using the extra cash to subsidise incumbent operators and preventing by all means any fair competition with other passenger or freight operators.

”So France and Germany have led the way to ensuring that the Transport Council allows these crumbling monopolies to stagger on, with no transparency or regulation on possible unfair subsidies. Where is the competitive single market to which EU institutions and members states have signed up? The European Parliament can still put this right in the forthcoming trilogues with the EC and Council, by strengthening the rules on transparency, resisting hidden financial subsidies, and going back to the original role of the infrastructure manager with full and independent responsibilities. That is what will attract private investment and grow the rail sector.“