The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether certain public service compensations and free asset transfers in the Italian rail freight transport market are in line with EU state aid rules. These measures benefit companies within the Ferrovie dello Stato group – the Italian railway incumbent – in particular its subsidiaries Trenitalia SpA and FS Logistica SpA. The Commission will examine if the measures conferred a selective economic advantage on Trenitalia or other companies within the group to the detriment of its competitors. The opening of an in-depth investigation gives interested third parties the opportunity to comment. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
In its in-depth investigation the Commission will assess allegations raised in two complaints concerning two distinct measures:
- The first measure consists of the transfer of certain railway infrastructure assets free of charge from infrastructure manager Rete Ferroviaria Italiana SpA to the two freight transport companies Trenitalia and FS Logistica. Italy considers that these transactions fall within a reallocation of assets in the context of the railway group’s reorganisation in the early 2000s. However, the asset transfers took place between 2007 and 2011 and, so far, Italy has submitted no evidence demonstrating that they were decided at the time of the initial reorganisation. In any event, such an intra-group reallocation without appropriate compensation might give the beneficiary an undue economic advantage as it improves its market position as compared to its competitors. Since the main players in the Italian market for rail freight transport also operate at international level, these asset transfer measures might also affect trade between Member States.
- The second measure under investigation consists of compensations which Trenitalia has been receiving since 2000 for the discharge of public service obligations in the freight transport market. Italy argues that the public service obligation is necessary to ensure a universal service for freight transportation from and to southern Italy, in order to maintain and strengthen regional cohesion and territorial balance. The Commission fully acknowledges that public service obligations are important to deliver high quality transport services to citizens. However, at this stage, the Commission doubts that there is a need for public service obligations for freight transport in a substantial part of Italy. It is worth noting that lines to the North of the country and international routes are already served by competing railway operators without such compensations.
The Commission will now investigate both measures to verify whether its concerns are justified.
In 2000-2001, Italy reorganised its incumbent railway operator Ferrovie dello Stato SpA and created separate entities responsible for infrastructure management (RFI) and train operations (including Trenitalia SpA, active in both passenger and freight services, and FS Logistica SpA, active in logistics services in the freight sector, both wholly-owned subsidiaries of the Ferrovie dello Stato Group).
The Italian rail freight market is considered to be fully liberalised since 2003, and since 2007 also at EU level. Trenitalia and other members of Ferrovie dello Stato compete on the freight transport market at national and EU level with Italian as well as international railway companies. The measures at stake are therefore liable to distort competition between Member States.