France and Germany have long led the opposition to any competition above rail for passenger services, and done their best to frustrate fair competition in rail freight. Now DB and SNCF have both come up with the perfect solution to competition in their own country; they will compete with themselves within their own holding company and keep all others out!
So SNCF TGVs compete with low cost TGV Ouigo, both services run by SNCF, and DB announced recently that it will introduce alternative low cost intercity services, using older rolling stock and allowing cheaper regional tickets, and even introduce Wifi, something that the real competition, HKX, introduced in 2012.
But this new competition above rail is a complete smoke screen!
DB controls the assets, the ticket selling and the timetable of both of the newly created competitors in Germany, as does SNCF in France. If they really wanted competition, then they would also agree to sell tickets for all operators at their outlets, allow other operators to use their state owned rolling stock at competitive prices; in fact, they would welcome proposals in the 4th Railway Package for their infrastructure managers to be not only independent but given responsibilities for capacity allocation, network management and maintenance in a way that treats all operators fairly.
Even SNCF says it now welcomes competition, but not in France, since there are ‘important social issues that must be addressed first’ (SNCF President Guillaume Pepy, in Railway Gazette International March 2015). Plus ça change!
The only solution to bringing competition, customer service and growth to the rail sector is to complete the 4th Railway Package as the European Commission proposes, coupled with a full Sector Investigation into the rail sector by DG COMP.
by Tony Berkeley
Tony Berkeley is chairman of the UK Rail Freight Group and a Board Member of the European Rail Freight Association. The opinions expressed are his own.