The freight market, and rail transport at European level more generally, is in a state of flux. Accepting the challenge of globalisation and of the establishment of a sustainable transport system involves, among other things, extensive liberalisation of this market (see, among others, the “railway packages”). The objective is the creation of a single harmonised rail market.
A massive process of restructuring is required for the European railways to be able to benefit from the advantages of the Single Market. Liberalisation implies that the railway undertakings benefit from autonomy of day-to-day management in order to become truly commercial enterprises with full responsibility. They need to address customers’ expectations more effectively. For their part, the Member States of the European Union must ensure that these measures are applied at national level and must guarantee the transparency of relations between railway operation and administration of the railway infrastructure.
The result of this is that the railway undertakings must intervene in the market like private enterprises, whereas the rail network must be managed under the aegis of the Member States. It is the latter which will bear the financial cost of the infrastructure and which will levy the usage charges set as a function of the distance, the composition of train, and other criteria (speed, axle load , etc.).
The revitalisation of the railways also involves the development of rail transport which does not stop at national frontiers. This assumes greater interoperability at technical level, and likely the maintenance of certain forms of co-operation between the operators of the rail services and the managers of the infrastructure.
Certain railway undertakings have drawn up authorised co-operation agreements, for example ÖBB (At), DB (D), SNCF (F) and SNCB (B), etc. The Cargo divisions of certain companies have merged, for example Railion (DB Cargo, Railion Denmark, Railion Benelux). Nevertheless, it must be ensured that these alliances do not lead to new monopolies and do not infringe the rules of fair competition.µ
Thanks to the more rapid rate of liberalisation of the sector, a railway undertaking will acceptably be able to offer directly international point-to-point services, as is generally the case in all the other methods of transport.