Rail Economics, Policy and Regulation in Europe

Rail Economics, Policy and Regulation in Europe

Edited by Matthias Finger and Pierre Messulam

The European railway sector has undergone profound and predominantly institutional changes over the past 20 years, due to the initiatives of the European Commission. This book constitutes a first systematic assessment and account of the recent transformations of the industry along a series of critical yet contentious issues such as competition, unbundling, regulation, access charging, standards and interoperability, and public–private partnerships. It also covers the main railways sectors including passenger transport, high speed and freight.

Chapter 4: European railway reform: unbundling and the need for coordination

Didier van de Velde

Subjects: economics and finance, transport, politics and public policy, regulation and governance, urban and regional studies, transport


Directive 91/440 and the subsequent so-called ‘railway packages’ adopted by the European Union initiated substantial institutional reforms in the European railway sector. These successive legislative initiatives addressed various technical harmonisation issues and induced member states to implement a growing level of unbundling between the management of rail infrastructure and train operations. This unbundling was part of a policy aimed at tackling the perceived inefficiency and lack of responsiveness of the incumbent national railways to changing national and international market demand. In this vision, unbundling – by reducing the monopoly position of the incumbent railway and its dominance on the infrastructure network – facilitates access and competition by new operators, which should contribute to greater rail efficiency and effectiveness. Section 4.1 defines railway unbundling, while section 4.2 presents the main European policy initiatives that have pushed the unbundling reforms forward in the railway sector. The European unbundling requirements led to a wave of reforms throughout the European railway sector. Section 4.3 illustrates the wide diversity in the implementation of unbundling across European countries, using the examples of Sweden, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland; it also draws a brief contrast with Japan and the United States.

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