The 4th railway package: measures to improve Europe's railways

What is the 4th railway package?

The 4th railway package aims to remove the remaining barriers to the creation of a single European rail area. The proposed legislation would reform the EU's rail sector by encouraging competition and innovation in domestic passenger markets. It would also implement structural and technical reforms. The end result should be higher levels of safety, interoperability and reliability in the European rail network.

The package consists of 6 legislative proposals from the Commission. 

Why do we need it? 

Trans-European Transport policy (TEN-T)

The 4th railway package supports the EU's new TEN-T policy, launched on 1 January 2014. It sets out 9 core transport network corridors across the EU which aim to:

  • remove bottlenecks
  • build missing cross-border connections
  • promote integration and interoperability between different modes of transport

The European rail network is currently quite fragmented. Different member states use different safety standards and technical systems. Cross-border train services, for example, have to get safety authorisation from several different national authorities and deal with several different signalling systems. This makes it complicated and expensive for new rail operators and new technical equipment to enter the rail market.

By removing the remaining barriers to the single European rail area, the proposed 4th railway package will help create a more competitive rail sector, with better connections between the EU and its neighbouring countries.

The changes would also help the EU meet targets for reduced emissions  and encourage increased use of rail transport, as outlined in the Commission's 2011 Transport White Paper. 

In detail

Proposals under the 4th railway package have four main aims:

  1. Standards and approvals that work
    The changes aim to cut the administrative costs for rail companies and make it easier for new operators to enter the market. The European Railway Agency (ERA) would become the single place of issue for vehicle authorisations and safety certificates for operators.
  2. A structure that delivers
    The proposed changes would strengthen the role of infrastructure managers - the people responsible for running tracks - ensuring they have complete operational and financial independence from train operators. Infrastructure managers would also control all areas at the heart of the rail network, such as infrastructure planning, timetabling, and daily operations and maintenance.
  3. Opening domestic passenger markets
    The 4th railway package includes the proposal to open up domestic passenger railways to new entrants and services from December 2019. Companies would be able either to offer competing services, such as a new train service on a particular route, or to bid for public service rail contracts through tendering. The proposed changes would make competitive tendering mandatory for public service rail contracts in the EU.
  4. Maintaining a skilled rail workforce
    The proposals recognise the importance of attracting skilled and motivated staff to the rail sector. In particular, the changes would allow member states to better protect workers when public service contracts are transferred to new contractors.

The legislation to tackle these issues covers technical proposals, and governance and market opening proposals.

The technical pillar covers updates to three existing pieces of legislation:

  • proposal for a revised regulation on ERA - 2013/0014(COD)
  • proposal for a revised directive on the interoperability of the rail system in the EU - 2013/0015(COD)
  • proposal to amend the directive on railway safety - 2013/0016(COD)

The governance and market opening pillars cover amendments to two existing pieces of legislation and the repeal of a further piece of legislation:

  • proposal to amend the regulation on opening the market for domestic passenger rail transport services - 2013/0028(COD)
  • proposal to amend the directive establishing a single European rail area - 2013/0029(COD)
  • proposal to repeal the regulation on rules for the standardisation of railway undertakings' accounts - 2013/0013(COD)

The role of the Council

The 6 proposals under the 4th railway package will be negotiated and adopted through the ordinary legislative procedure. The Council therefore co-legislates with the European Parliament.

The Council has already adopted its position at first reading on the three proposals under the technical pillar on 10 December 2015. The European Parliament now needs to formally approve them at second reading.

At the TTE meeting on 8 October 2015, the Council agreed on a general approach on the governance and market opening proposals. The Council is currently in trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament.