Release Date: 11 May 2007
Release ID: 1198
The Belgian Government has by Royal Decree and without any consultation with those affected, effectively shut out competition on rail freight from its network, including of course to and from the port of Antwerp.
By requiring all independent train operators to use drivers trained on SNCB programmes and simulators, the Belgian Government is clearly seeking to recreate a monopoly in rail freight operations for the foreseeable future.
RFG members who wish to operate there, to lease equipment or provide other services had better look somewhere else for business opportunities; customers will consider avoiding Antwerp and other parts of Belgium if they want the option of obtaining competitive quotes for rail freight services, both in terms of service quality and price!
RFG Chairman Tony Berkeley commented ‘preventing competition from operating by introducing regulations that favour one company over another, and without proper notice, is not something that a responsible government should do, especially when this is well know to be illegal both under Belgian and EU law.’
‘It is like the UK Government requiring by law with immediate effect that all airline pilots operating in or over the UK should be trained by British Airways, and then writing to all passengers saying that they would fly with other airlines at their own risk since the pilots would no longer be approved as having passed the official pilot’s test.
RFG has written to Belgian ministers and to Mr Matthais Ruete, Director General of EU DG TREN, pointing out that the UK system of driver training, where each operator is free within output based rules to choose how its drivers are trained, and by what organisation, works well. We noted that our railway safety record supports this but that, unlike Belgium, competition for rail freight above the rail has probably been the main cause of a more than 60% growth in traffic in the last twelve years.
RFG believes that, in a liberalised market for rail freight as planned by the Commission and strongly supported by RFG, and implemented, in theory at least, in every member state, such monopolistic actions as those taken by the Belgian Government have no place at all. As it stands, there may be no independent train operators in Belgium for some years; this will cause serious financial pain to the private companies not only in Belgium but elsewhere if they come to believe that the incumbents and their governments can get away with such actions.
This Belgian Government action will also put at risk the whole European rail freight policy, which is based on the introduction of fair competition above rail leading to better service quality and growth.
The very fast response from EU DG TREN Director-General M. Ruete following the complaints of RFG and ERFA provides evidence that the Commission is taking this issue serious. The Belgian Government will now have until 31st May 2007 to justify their new legal framework to EU officials.
RFG will follow-up this issue closely.
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