Is France re-bundling?
When the French government announced last month that it intends to re-merge train operator SNCF with track infrastructure manager RFF, attention switched immediately to Brussels. The announcement seemed in open defiance of the ‘unbundling’ that the Commission is planning to propose later this month. Did it mean that France’s 1997 separation of the two functions was a failure?
However, a closer examination of what is being proposed suggests that the change is less significant than it may appear. While the two entities may be nominally combined, their functions would remain separate – much like the situation in Belgium. According to Commission sources, the change may even be compatible with the proposed rail package, with only a few minor changes needed. The Commission will be meeting with the French government about their proposal in the coming weeks.
Some in the industry suspect that the degree to which the two entities will be combined may
have been purposely exaggerated by the French government in order to please the rail unions, which are generally opposed to liberalisation both in France and in Germany. There is a perception in France that the separation of RFF from SNCF has led to a deterioration of workers’ rights.
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France has not yet opened its standard passenger rail market to foreign competition, which in some ways has made the 1997 unbundling of questionable value. However, freight and high-speed services were opened to competition over the past decade.