Market opening in 2019
On 3 December 2019, regional lines will be the first to be affected by this change followed, in 2021, by high-speed lines. Deutsche Bahn, Trenitalia, SNCF Mobilités and other train operating companies will then have equal access to the French network.
Market opening is intended to give the rail mode a new lease of life and improve its efficiency, In Germany, open access has proved a boon, with better services attracting a larger number of riders, without resulting systematically in price hikes for the customer.
"We must prepare the ground for tomorrow’s high-performance network and support all present and future clients by changing our way of looking at mobility and the role of the infrastructure manager, who should be an essential partner for the regions and train operating companies."
Edouard Philippe, Prime Minister, May 2018
In the early 1990s, Europe began a process of liberalisation aimed at boosting rail traffic between member countries. The opening of the passenger transport market is a further step towards the creation of a single, harmonised European rail market.
The first sector to be opened to competition was international rail freight, closely followed by the domestic freight market. In 2005, a first privately-owned train was worked between Dugny-sur-Meuse and Völkingen, in Germany. In 2009, it was the turn of the international passenger transport market to be deregulated with the first cross-border train not belonging to SNCF to be operated in France making its maiden run in 2011 (the Thello-Paris-Venice service). From 2020, all train operators will be entitled to access to high-speed lines. For regional lines, the regions are expected to issue their first open invitations to tender in 2019, although this will not be a mandatory requirement until 2023.
Towards a single European railway area
To promote through working in the Union, the European Commission has embarked on the process of creating greater uniformity from one country to another, which naturally calls for common safety standards and infrastructure compatibility. This is the rationale for common signalling methods and equipment, starting with ERTMS 2 (European Rail Traffic Management System). The upshot is the growing number of inter-city trains between major European towns and cities transiting over high-speed lines.
Trains, as a mass transit mode, have a pollutant record that far outshines the other major public transport alternatives. Deregulation, and the advent of foreign train operators on the French national network, represents a logical step towards the European ideal of making travel easier within the European area for people and for goods.
The example of Germany
On the other side of the Rhine, rail sector liberalisation dates back to 1994, when the German government agreed to take over the €35 billion debt burden of the Deutsche Bahn.
The federal states (Länder) receive grants to the tune of €7 billion for regional trains from the federal government and then invite bids from public or private sector train operating companies to work trains on their lines. On main lines several operators may run trains at the same time, for example between Hamburg and Cologne.
More than 20 years later, the historic operator is still leader on the domestic market with a 70% share of the regional market and 90% on main lines.
Market opening is a growth driver for SNCF Réseau. In future, its infrastructure manager function will be expanded to include supplying services and playing a pivotal rail system role. This is a chance for it to extend its service portfolio.
A cultural revolution is on the horizon and with it, a whole new mindset, new attitudes and a new relationship with network users.
SNCF Réseau sales teams are busily working to optimise the existing network, giving priority to commuter trains and introducing sophisticated and customer-facing high-tech services, in particular data-based solutions.
A new Clients & Services Division is taking shape to cater to new demand and plan ahead for future train operating company requirements. This is a new departure for the experts and a chance for them to hone a new range of skills.
Points to remember
- A key moment for the national rail system, which needs to secure its position as the transport mode of the future and seize the new opportunities that lie ahead.
- Market opening to competition, a European project designed to encourage through working of trains between Member States.
- Development of more efficient, customer-facing digital railway solutions.