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Liberalised and Interoperable Railways

European Union
Complete with results
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Infrastructure (INF)
Transport mode
Rail icon
Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues


Background & Policy context

Liberalisation of the transport market, which is a key objective of the

EU, is hindered in the rail sector by the legacy of the management of

national networks and by high costs of infrastructure investments. EC

Directives (EC 91/440 on separation of accounts of infrastructure and

operation and on access to infrastructure, 95/18 on licensing of

operators, and 95/19 on the allocation and charging of capacity) have

introduced flexibility in the rail sector. However, their implementation

in the Member States is far from complete.


The LIBERAIL project aimed to assess the experiences of liberalisation of

the rail infrastructure use, evaluate today's results from the Directives

91/440, 95/18 and 95/19, assess medium- and long-term effects, and propose

corrective measures if needed and new initiatives.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
European Commission; Directorate-General for Energy and Transport (DG TREN; formerly DG VII)
Type of funding
Public (EU)


According to their approach to implementation, EU countries have been grouped into four scenarios:


  • 'the wise state and lean railway' (Sweden, The Netherlands and Portugal);
  • 'rail unbundling and privatisation' (United Kingdom);
  • 'the vertically integrated commercially oriented railways holding' (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain);
  • 'commercialisation of public utility and third party access' (Germany).


Common to all scenarios is the replacement of general subsidy by contractualisation and the transfer of public service obligations to regional and local authorities. The financing of interoperability has been identified as a 'brake' in the liberalisation process.


LIBERAIL has suggested three tools for calculating rail capacity:


  • schedule building on line sections or divisions;
  • simulation to assess the network effects;
  • identification of long-distance paths that meet predefined quality and priority rules.


The project has also recommended the harmonisation of the calculation methods of full and marginal costs, together with the explicit statement of the boundaries and contents of the infrastructure manager real estate and core activities.

Policy implications

One of the keys to further progress in implementing the EC Directives is to ensure that competition works on a similar basis for all, to avoid 'cherry picking' and to mitigate the feared social impacts of liberalisation. Until now, few countries have adapted their regulations and corresponding bodies in this direction. In addition, authorities should prevent misuses such as prohibitive pricing or dumping. New Directives should include guidelines for railway reforms and common operational, managerial, and performance indicators, to enable benchmarking.


Under the present circumstances in many countries, the overall costs of the infrastructure cannot be fully covered within the railway system itself. At least during a transition period, the infrastructure manager has to be compensated as long as the capacity of operators to pay is below the real costs of the infrastructure. As investments for railway infrastructure have to compete with all other State expenditure, effective long-term planning has to be ensured by statutory policies. Pricing policies can be used by public authorities to influence transport policies, as well as external consequences on the environment and on regional development.


The new Directives should address the following items in more detail:


  • tasks, obligations and responsibilities to guarantee safety applying to the different parties;
  • different treatment of passenger and freight transport;
  • the length of the periods of exclusive rights assignment;
  • the cost basis for charging, as short-term marginal costing hampers privately-owned infrastructure managers in ensuring the long-term existence of their network and requires subsidies;
  • the basis for short-term and long-term marginal cost definition;
  • the path allocation procedure in relation to parental rights and in relation to route categorisation, in turn linked to the value of the service offered;
  • ensuring network integration and environmental and social policy objectives.


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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