►► The choice for MEPs, as expressed in a poster for the TUC which wants the European Commission’s railway plan blocked◀◀

MEPs vote this week on the future shape of railways in Europe and, it is claimed, they could make it impossible for any future British Government to re-create an integrated publicly owned railway.

The MEPs will be debating on Tuesday and Wednesday and then voting on The Fourth Railway Package – a new set of regulations coming from the European Commission.

The package aims to impose privatisation on domestic rail passenger services in every European Union state, says the British TUC and it will doom any attempts to keep the successful East Coast main line – run by Directly Operated Railways – in public hands.

“This will make it impossible for any UK government to change our failed privatised model, and create an integrated, publicly owned railway,” said Sharon Sukhram of the TUC.

She added: “Compared to publicly owned railways in Europe, we have the highest fares, and evidence shows that our trains tend to be more overcrowded and slower than those in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

“Currently, on the whole, every EU member state has the freedom to choose which way it wants to run its passenger rail services. These measures will remove that freedom, imposing a model of fragmentation and privatisation, which is estimated to increase costs of running the railways by £1.2 billion a year in the UK.”

The TUC is urging people to take action before Tuesday and contact their MEPs to urge them to oppose the Fourth Railway Package.

At the same time, the European Transport Federation is organising a protest on Tuesday outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg. 

By contrast, Lord Berkeley of Britain’s Rail Freight Group is urging MEPs to vote for the package.

The RFG warns that amendments to the package will kill off further private investment in the railways.

The RFG, First Group, National Express and 15 other companies and organisations from various countries have written to every MEP urging them to back the package.

The letter says: “Fair competition above the tracks, including the involvement of private sector operators, is essential if there is to be innovation and growth.  

“There are many issues in the package, including the extent of separation between infrastructure manager and railway undertakings and Chinese walls between them to ensure no unfair financial flows; the requirements for competition in passenger services; the greater responsibilities of the European Rail Agency and the need for greater co-ordination and co-operation between infrastructure managers.”

The letter adds: “It has been claimed that this 4th RP limits the right to strike, of railway workers to move from one company to another in a holding company.  There is nothing in the package about this at all, only a restriction on senior management movement.”

The European Passengers Federation, to which Railfuture is affiliated, is also calling for the package to be approved.

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