Transport | Policy Brief
Revision of the railway state aid guidelines
22 May 2024
BY: Matthias Finger, Juan José Montero Pascual, VAN DER VEER Anouk
Rail transport and inland waterways are crucial to achieve the objectives outlined in the Green Deal agenda. These aims include a 55% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 and attaining climate neutrality by 2050. The Railway Guidelines play a fundamental role in this context, enabling support for the transition to more sustainable transport modes. They aimed to endorse the Member State investments necessary for the completion of the single transport area, and the green and digital transitions (together with other state aid guidelines). Since their adoption in 2008, around 75 measures have been found compatible with the Treaty based on the Railway Guidelines, particularly concerning state aid for the coordination of transport, with a total budget of over EUR 9 billion to encourage a modal shift from road to rail freight transport. The main objective of the Railway Guidelines was to accompany the sectoral policy on full liberalisation of the rail sector and completion of a single European rail market in which full interoperability is ensured. Furthermore, the Railway Guidelines aimed to facilitate the restructuring of a sector marked by significant indebtedness. In 2020, however, a fitness check of these guidelines showed that they were outdated. EU policy priorities in the Green Deal put more emphasis on a modal shift to modes of transport which are less polluting than roads, such as rail and inland waterways. This modal shift should contribute to meeting the emissions reduction target set for 2050. In parallel with this, rail markets had now been fully liberalised following the adoption and implementation of the 4th Railway Package (which was not the case when the 2008 Railway Guidelines were adopted). Hence, the Commission launched a revision of the state aid rules applicable to rail transport to bring them into complete alignment with the Union’s key priorities. The revision aims to support the shift towards more sustainable modes of transport and implement additional procedural facilitations for aid measures in the field of greener land and intermodal transport with block exemptions. The Commission also aims to protect the level playing field in the railway market. In pursuit of these aims and in line with Article 93 of the Treaty, the European Commission is also considering adopting block exemption regulations in the field of land transport. Anticipating the publication of the State Aid Guidelines, the European Commission’s DG COMP and the Florence School of Regulation Transport Area hosted a forum entitled ‘Revision of The Railway State Aid Guidelines,’ which took place on 26 April 2024. It tackled issues relating to operating aid, aid for investment in infrastructure and aid for investment in mobile equipment. Here, we summarise the main takeaways from the discussion.
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