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The Council of the European Union have announced that they are working on additional temporary rules to „mitigate the severe effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the rail sector.”

The rule changes, which apply until 31st December 2020 and are extendable if deemed necessary, grant companies relief from rail infrastructure charges. The rules will also relax obligations with regard to track access charges, reservation charges and mark-ups.

Importantly, the European Council text has specified that, where appropriate, member states may apply the derogation on track access charges according to market segments, provided that it is done in a transparent and „non-discriminatory” way. Therefore each individual country within the EU may choose whether to apply the derogation to freight transport and/or passenger transport. Indeed, each member state can choose whether to implement any of the derogations as it sees fit.

However, the European Council’s press statement makes it clear that member states must still inform the Commission of any measures they take, while the Commission is also obliged to make this information publicly available.

If required, these exemptions may be extended via Commission delegated acts up to six months at a time, and by up to 18 months in total after the regulation has entered into force.

The announcement of the changes concludes by stressing that negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament „are taking place as a matter of urgency.” Therefore it appears there is genuine desire in the council to see the temporary rules introduced quickly.

According to Netzwerk Europäischer Eisenbahnen, an association of around 60 independent rail freight operators, it is estimated that independent operators may experience a revenue shortfall of €422m in the years 2020 and 2021 combined. In April, some of the organisation’s members even saw sales drop by as much as 60%.

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