Keeping with contemporary history, one can order the panorama of railways in Europe by referring to the principles of a separation between infrastructure and rail services. This vertical disintegration of the railway is peculiar to Europe, it is found neither in America nor in Russia, China, India, Japan, & c. where the historical model of the integrated enterprise remains, including when two separate networks overlap and compete with each other, as in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The reform launched in 1991 (and unfinished to date) aimed to boost rail transport by introducing internal competition mechanisms (intramodal), in addition to external competition from other modes of transport.

The fourth European railway “package” is a continuation of this long process of reform, with its two pillars: technology (for the interoperability of European networks) and governance (private and public responsibilities).

The management of the infrastructure has essentially remained in the hands of a single state agency

Rail transport is broken down into distinct segments, even though they share the infrastructure.

Urban and regional passenger transport is one way or another of the public service (economic service of general interest according to European terminology).

Long-distance transport is generally a commercial activity (with the exception, for example, of state subsidized French “balance trains”), in competition with the offers of other modes of car-sharing, bus, airplane) when there is no – or not yet – competition internal to the rail mode.

Freight is a commercial activity also subject to internal and external competition.

However, the slow implementation of European reforms is not the only strategic issue governing the evolution of the rail system. The maintenance of the network, neglected for too long, is now taking precedence over the creation of new capacities in investment budgets, as well as the decongestion of nodes in the network and stations alongside the improvement of the lines. In several countries, the strategy of the “all-TGV” is no longer a priority, the modernization of the devices in place proving less expensive and nevertheless effective.



In Belgium, railways are a state monopoly since the very birth of the country. As elsewhere in Europe, Directive 91/440 prescribes the separation – if not organic – of infrastructure and operation. The liberalization of the market, triggered by this directive and the “rail packages” that followed, has been progressive: it affected international freight in 2003, all freight in 2007, international travelers in 2010. Transport domestic passenger is not yet open to competition.

The European Commission set the objective of opening all markets to competition in 2019. The European Parliament, in its configuration prior to its recent renewal, postponed this deadline to 2023. The three Benelux countries have defined a common position, considering that the opening of this market would not be a major problem since the entry of new operators would not have any adverse social effects.


For more than 20 years, Spain has experienced an exceptional expansion of its high-speed rail network, now reaching more than 2,400 km. This new offer raises a new demand which, contradictorily, is hampered by the economic crisis. To increase traffic, the railway company is forced to lower its prices. At the same time, suburban services are declining, as well as regional trains.

Iron holds a modal share of 5.5% for interurban passenger transport, a modest rate in the European context, but rising due to high speed. It is prevailing on the plane on the interior lines (Iberia plans to close its air bridge between Barcelona and Madrid).

la France

The organization of the rail system in France was reworked by the “law reforming rail” passed in 2014, returning to the previous reform dating back to 1997. The management of infrastructure is reunited within SNCF Réseau, transport services are the responsibility of SNCF Mobilités and the whole is capped by a public body head of common services and a coherence strategy, SNCF.

Regional passenger traffic has risen sharply in recent years, as a result of an increase in supply by the regions, the organizing authorities since 2002. The amount of subsidies (the user pays only about 30% of the cost of transport ) is probably reaching a ceiling and the regions are now raising the issue of cost reduction, opening up to intra-rail competition and the role of coach transport.


Greece is the least railway country in Europe! Its rail network, built 100 years ago, is no longer in use only on the line Patras – Athens – Salonika and on a branch to Turkey for freight.


In Italy, the railway played a prominent role in the construction of the nation. Its loan-financed construction first met a political objective of unifying the territory. After a long period of organizational stability, the incumbent (FS, Ferrovie dello Stato) acquired the status of a public company in 1985. The reforms will follow one another at a steady pace. In 2001 (birth of RFI) which introduces the separation of infrastructure and services, in accordance with the 1991 European directive.

Today, the Trenitalia group brings together long-distance passenger transport, including high speed, which is an autonomous entity and no longer receives a subsidy; regional transport (for which the State gives the regions the means to negotiate with the railway undertakings, including Trenitalia, to fix the services: the user pays about 35% of the cost, the rest being covered by subsidies); finally freight (unsubsidised, with free prices).


Poland is now the second largest railway power in the European Union, after Germany. The network began to be built even before the existence of the country as an independent nation … In recent years, passenger transport has undergone a profound transformation, with strong growth of the automobile and a fall in rail transport, and more again, intercity bus transport. Rail passenger traffic has stabilized since 2004. The aging rail network is undergoing renovation. The infrastructure is divided among eight different managers, including PLK from the historical group PKP which owns 93% of the network and employs 41,000 people (probably an overstaff). The rail freight market is largely liberalized, with a large number of operators (48 to date) holding licenses, issued by the Transport Agency (UTK) of the Ministry of Transport.

United Kingdom

The contemporary history of the railway in the United Kingdom begins in 1996, the year of its privatization. Today, the modal share of rail for passenger transport is 9% in terms of the number of trips, but 20% beyond 100 miles. For freight, the share of iron is less than 10% but resists the economic crisis and the decline in the use of coal (which still accounts for 36% in its total traffic, next to 27% for intermodal transport shipping containers and 2% transport through the Channel Tunnel).

The infrastructure manager is Network Rail, a not-for-profit corporation that manages the network (which is owned by the state) and the 17 largest stations. The system is regulated by an independent body (the ORR Office of Rail Regulation). The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) brings together the railway companies and Network Rail and aims to express the strategic point of view of the industry. The ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies) brings together all rail passenger companies (TOCs) and manages shared ticketing.

A serious accident in 2000 led to the renationalisation of the infrastructure, entrusted to Network Rail.


The rail network in Sweden is intensely used, so that the operation is facing delays and breakdowns against which travelers are protesting. Traficverket, the Swedish Transport Authority, administers all transport infrastructure, including the allocation of train paths to the various operators. Transportstyrelsen is the regulator, with the competence of granting railway company licenses.

Rail passenger transport is important (all public transport accounts for about 27% of all trips measured in passenger-kilometers) and is growing more steadily than freight.

The railway reform initiated in 1988 separated infrastructure and services and liberalized the whole system in stages. The incumbent operator SJ has thus lost its priorities on the main lines, the system has become much less integrated and more complex than in the past with the entry of many Swedish and international operators.

data extracted from:

Bulletin de l’Observatoire des politiques et Stratégies de TRANSPORT en Europe


Presentation of the french official position of CGE CGC Ferroviaire on the opening to the competition


1991 the European Commission votes to liberalize access to public rail networks;

2003 opening to competition of international freight;

2006 opening to the competition of the national freight;

2010 Opening to competition of international passenger transport;

The twenty-eight members of the European Union (EU) have agreed to open the passenger transport market at national and regional level;

The European Commission takes a decision on La Poste, saying that EPICs can not go bankrupt: this constituted “an unlimited guarantee granted by France to La Poste, ie state aid incompatible with the internal market”. This interpretation

confirmed by the Court of Justice of the EU in 2014.

2015 the European Union has adopted the fourth “railway package” which completes the liberalization of rail, articles 2 to 5 of the French Railway Reform Act are a transposition of this European directive;

2018 April 17, the National Assembly adopts the reform of SNCF;

2020 January 1st, following the “SPINETTA” report, the 3 EPIC SNCFs will be divided into 5 companies (4 SA and 1 SAS for Freight) and the State will take back 35 billion euros of debt to SNCF Réseau (out of the 46, Current 6 billion);

Opening to the competition for the TER, TET (Trains of Equilibrium of the Territory – Téoz and Intercités) and TGV as well as for the new lines Transilien.


We are convinced that rail transport is the backbone of mobility. It is the safest means of transport compared to the other modes of transport that are the road, and the air, but unfortunately it has never been valued by the public authorities.

This is even more true concerning the transport of goods by rail, the internal competition and the lobbies did their work to discredit this mode of transport with the virtues more than ever of actuality.

Whatever the political label of the various governments, it is clear that the strategist state, the prime contractor to SNCF is the first responsible for the economic waste of the Public Rail Group (GPF) and the abysmal debt of SNCF Réseau which For years, it has favored the development of high speed through debt and with insufficient capital (for RFF then SNCF Réseau) that does not allow for an efficient regeneration of the National Rail Network (RFN).

Some key dates:

1997: creation of the EPIC Réseau Ferré Français (RFF) with the unreachable goal of solving the SNCF debt problem. Establishment that found itself in the same situation as SNCF where the principals (the State) did not pay their dues and gave orders contrary to the interest of RFF. (Investments on own funds beyond Article 4, to avoid investment in funds lost).

2006: opening to rail freight competition. The arrival of private operators of rail freight should boost this mode of transport, we all know the catastrophic result of today: 52.7 billion tons of kilometers transported in 2000 against 32.4 billion kilometers per kilometer in 2017 .

All the presidents or directors of public and private rail freight companies such as SNCF, Euro Cargo Rail, Europorte and the UTP wrote a joint letter on January 25, 2016, to the prime minister of the time, Mr. Manuel Valls, to alert him of the decline of freight transport by rail.

During the same period, the president of SNCF, under the guise of modal complementarity, invested in the purchase of road transport companies, making the SNCF group the leading road haulage company in France.

2014: SNCF and RFF reform. Both companies are sacrificed and transformed into 3 EPICs. This reform was announced as the reform of the century, to save the railroad and face the competition that loomed. The government of the time and the president of SNCF, Mr. Guillaume PEPY, explained to us the benefits of this reform which led to the current disaster, whereas today, it recognizes that the organization of 2014 was too complex .

The CFE-CGC had alerted the authorities of the time about the ineptitude of this reform, we were told that three EPIC were more profitable than two! We therefore refused to sign our signature on this insane project.

This 2014 reform called into question all the company agreements within SNCF and the various private railway companies, with the creation of a collective agreement of the railway branch which was to be of a “high level” in order to avoid social dumping. The CFE-CGC has used its right of opposition to denounce those agreements that have not been the subject of real negotiations and that do not meet the stated objective, penalizing in particular the employees of private railway companies.

What about the creation of a multitude of subsidiaries? Today, SNCF owns hundreds of them, as many structures that could one day be sold. Among them, the very uneconomical but very profitable trucking companies, which have been strangely developed by the SNCF presidency in recent years to the detriment of rail freight.


Concerning the subject that interests us, namely the opening to competition in the rail sector, the president of SNCF, Mr. Guillaume PEPY has announced, to which willing to hear it, that the arrival of the competition was an opportunity for the company ! CFE-CGC FERROVIAIRE thinks the opposite because the EPIC SNCF Mobilités and tomorrow the S.A. SNCF Voyageurs is not ready:

– financially,

– structurally in its day-to-day management of human resources,

– and productively in its organization of obsolete work, to suffer competition from other operators not dragging a heavy liability.

We would be more inclined to warn the Brussels authorities about the strategic errors that have resulted in the slow and continuous deterioration of the state of the RFN, which will require major work lasting at least a decade, as has been the case. elsewhere announced in the media the president of SNCF Réseau, with direct impacts on the regularity, even the suppression of many trains.

Why the recommendations of the reports of the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne published in 2005 and 2012 have never been followed? What about billions paid by RFF to SNCF for the maintenance of the network during all these years?

Rail transport as a whole has been paid for by the State’s LGV Pro Policy and the historic company. If the creation of the first L.G.V. was in our view indispensable, it is incomprehensible that they were made to the detriment of the so-called “classical” network.

The leaders of SNCF as well as the successive governments (the principals) have a responsibility for the choices that have been made within the SNCF group.

The opening to competition is likely to create a real “earthquake” with the major consequence, a destabilization of the French rail system. It will not improve the network, nor the safety, nor the quality, nor even the regularity of the trains, besides our interlocutors struggle to show us the real impact of the various directives.

During the liberalization of rail freight, we had to witness an improvement in freight transport by rail. We all know the result, whether for private companies that have difficulties in finding an economic model like Euro Cargo Rail which has already restructured with an Employment Protection Plan (PSE) involving 300 employees or employees. public companies, the report is the same: catastrophic!

The Minister of Transport reiterates that the opening to competition has nothing to do with the privatization of SNCF. For her, there will never be a question of privatizing SNCF, but in the same sentence it specifies that the future SNCF will have to compete with private railway companies!

How a public company with public service missions at the service of users could compete with private railway companies that only seek to make profit on segments identified for their profitability and who do not hesitate to close their lines deficits and those they consider non-strategic.

How can one believe that a new transformation of the three current EPICs, into several companies with spin-offs, outsourcing of services, and a debt of 12 billion is a viable project?

How could a powerful public service survive this chaos?

As indicated to Mr. Jean-Cyril SPINETTA, the model of the air is not transposable to the railway sector: an incident on the tracks will cause the stop of all the trains that they are private or public, unlike the planes that can be diverted to other airports or routes.

In addition, the government and SNCF managers go well beyond the European directives.

Indeed, because while the fourth railway package imposes on the Member States free competition in the railway sector, it does not require the elimination of the status of railway workers, nor the organization of rail transport in France, let alone the abolition of the railway. ecotax that shows strategic errors on the part of the state that sacrificed the rail mode.

We ask that the state propose a major project to get rail back on track and stop the transfer of goods on the road.

Recent examples such as the abandonment of the car-train or even the train of primeurs Perpignan-Rungis are symptomatic …

We wonder about the financial difficulties of the different regions to maintain the existing network and in particular the capillary network.

The opening to competition is combined with the strategic mistakes of the historic president of the SNCF and currently President of the Management Board of G.P.F. (Mr Guillaume PEPY) who has always benefited from the support of the various ministers of transport.

It is conceivable and lucid to think, in the medium term, that the assets of the future SA SNCF Voyageurs could be sold, to the competition, by sectors of activities with consequences for the destruction of a superb tool of sustainable mobility which could be prevail to have the best mesh of Europe.


What were the real motivations that drove the government to implement the fourth railway package now and without notice?

Why the government suddenly accelerated the implementation of the directives of the Brussels Commission, when no minister had raised the subject in 2017, that the President of the Republic had not mentioned this reform in his letter of candidate , no more during the Assises de la mobilité?

Why the president of SNCF, Mr. Guillaume PEPY, sends in the spring of 2018 an internal note to its 160,000 employees who called for a new organization of the three companies comprising the GPF, even as the costly reforms, initiated since 2014 , are not finished yet?

Why the management of SNCF still has not developed rail freight railways, while it has long had the technology to do it?


CFE-CGC FERROVIAIRE questions the relevance of having the same president at the head of an SNCF group responsible for managing both road hauliers and rail transport companies, the excuse of the door to door “has its limits.

If we share the need for door-to-door and intermodality, we consider that the financial and structural problems of rail transport are primarily linked to political choices based on clientelism and short-term profitability, to the detriment of social, societal and sustainable vision that should be carried by a large public company such as SNCF.

The mistakes of the past have convinced us that only a recapitalised public group and a cleared debt headed by a full-fledged president, devoted exclusively to revitalizing the rail freight and passenger services, could effectively improve and enhance the railways. the only benefit of the citizens and to participate in the ecological revolution that imposes itself on everyone.

While rail is expensive, it is an indisputable and universal fact, but it is an indispensable player in sustainable and economic development at national and regional level, but no railway company in the world operates without subsidies.

The instigating state of bad choices is the main cause of SNCF Réseau’s debt. It must therefore bear all of this debt and not as it is envisaged, that part (as did the Germans), no company can support billions of debt in its balance sheet accounts .

It is necessary to have a horizontal vision (global or systemic) and no longer vertical (economic or accounting) of transport costs, as we have indicated to the Ministry of Transport.

To demonstrate the savings made by rail transport, we therefore ask for a real change in intellectual thinking.

It is no longer necessary to look only at the costs incurred by a particular company to build and operate its infrastructures or to carry out its activities, but to take into account the social and environmental impacts of the various modes of transport.

It is necessary to be aware of the savings made by rail transport on public health and pollution, but also the impact on accidentology because, not to mention the human tragedy experienced, road accidents generate several tens of billions of euros various expenses (medical and rehabilitation expenses, invalidity pension, etc.) not to mention the billions of euros resulting from the congestion of our roads.

We claim that it is better to see a train carrying 40 trucks than 40 trucks on our roads even if the cost “we call vertical” (economic or accounting) seems cheaper.

The lungs of millions of Europeans prefer to see trains pass rather than thousands of polluting trucks. Our planet will only get better.

To know the different French positions of the CFE-CGC RAILWAY since 2017: https://www.cfecgc-ferroviaire.com/reforme-rroviaire.

Mr Robert SAEZ