Rail access charges (RACs) are the tolls that a train operator pays to run on a rail network. RACs can vary according to the types of trains as well as to the slots (or journey schedule), as stated in article 8 of the European Directive 1995-19: ‘The fees charged by the infrastructure manager shall be fixed according to the nature of the service, the time of the service, the market situation and the type and degree of wear and tear of the infrastructure’. This directive also states that RACs are one of the two resources, along with state subsidies, with which to finance rail infrastructure managers (IMs). RACs have been the subject of serious political and economic debates and decisions since the very origin of railways. The high costs of rail infrastructure development and maintenance, and the limited flexibility of rail infrastructure assets, along with their very long technical life span, make rail infrastructure decisions costly and irreversible. Therefore, balancing infrastructure costs with transport revenues has always been a decisive issue in rail economics, policy and regulation. The recent European Directives on infrastructure charging offer new opportunities for rail policy. For example, they raise questions of how to optimize the use of costly infrastructure assets and how to finance national and even European rail networks to meet social demand. RACs are also a crucial issue in rail economics.
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