Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Will it work?

Posted in Europe, High Speed by Chairman Pip on 29 May 2010

The concept of the open access railway is not a new one in Europe. EU Directive 91/440, passed in 1991, created the legal requirement that private companies (most national rail operators at the time were either nationalised or wholly state owned) be permitted to apply for track access rights in an EU country. However, in practice, open access is not especially widespread around Europe, with the exception of the privatised railways in Great Britain. In most countries, competition to the big national operator comes in the regional rail sector; for example in Germany, each of the Länder subsidises its own local rail services, and contracts these out to the best bidder. In some cases, Deutsche Bahn will be awarded a contract for the service, while in others the contract will go to another operator. However, these can’t be called “open access” in the true sense of the term, as these are regularly scheduled services that would run no matter who was running the service, and they are not in competition with another operator. In this respect, they are more like the franchises of the network in Great Britain. The genuine open access operator, as represented here by First Hull Trains, Grand Central and Wrexham & Shropshire, who bids to run its services by purchasing the right to specific slots in the national timetable, is virtually unknown in Europe. So, it is interesting to see the announcement that one of the first genuine open-access competitors to a national operator has announced its planned start date. Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori will be the first open-access high speed operator when it begins running its services in Italy in September 2011, in direct competition to the high speed services operated by Trenitalia. NTV has agreed train paths to nine cities with Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (the Italian equivilent of Network Rail), and will operate 51 trains per day in each direction (by contrast, the three open-access operators in Great Britain operate 18 trains daily each way between them). The first of NTV’s brand new AGV trainsets has been completed and is due to be delivered in October following testing, with a further 24 units due of the TGV successor, while the rolling stock depot is under construction. This level of investment shows that NTV is intending to be in this for the long term. Of course, it remains to be seen whether NTV can succeed as it has yet to operate any trains. But the open access operators in Great Britain have been able to build up a high level of passenger satisfaction, thanks to the fact that they are much smaller than the franchises, and so can afford to pay more attention to the details that passengers notice. While NTV will be bigger than any of the British operators, it will still be smaller than its own direct competitor, and so will proportionally be able to devote more resources to its passengers than the big national operator. It will be interesting to see what others make of this pioneer of European open-access, both in terms of how the big national operators respond, and for anybody that has a similar idea.

“NTV readies for Italo high speed launch”


4 Responses

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  1. Claire said, on 8 June 2010 at 4:24 am

    >> (most national rail operators at the time were either nationalised or wholly state owned)<<
    What's the difference?

    With that many daily services, it sounds as if NTV will do well. I'm surprised they can forsee the number of passengers to require 51 trains in each direction per day, but if they haven't overestimated, it should be a lucrative investment.

    • Chairman Pip said, on 8 June 2010 at 8:26 am

      Nationalised = owned and operated directly by the government, through a government set up management body. British Rail was a nationalised operation. Today, those national operators that are holdovers from the era of direct state control, like Deutsche Bahn and Nederlandse Spoorwegen are private companies, but their shares are 100% owned by the government.

  2. Claire said, on 8 June 2010 at 3:16 pm

    So basically, nationalised = owned and run by the state; state owned = just owned by the state?

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