What Role for the Railways in Eastern Europe?

European Conference of Ministers of Transport

Facing the collapse of their business and stiff competition from road transport, Eastern European railways are in a critical financial situation. Railway restructuring is a must, but where circumstances in each country are so different there can be no “one size fits all” solution. Nevertheless, some guidelines for restructuring are emerging. The strategies to be implemented will involve both governments and the railway companies themselves.

Separating infrastructure from operations, for instance, could be a good model provided infrastructure usage is priced efficiently. Concessions should be granted for local and regional passenger services. Freight transport issues have to be addressed at a European level - and open access should be the fundamental rule along with encouraging new market entrants.

Privatising the railways is probably not a prerequisite; their independence, however, is essential. Their management should be exactly the same as that of any other commercial company on the market and they should have appropriate management tools. Railways should focus their investment on new technologies and automation, difficult problems with reducing overstaffing can be resolved only with government co-operation.

Based on a review of the strengths and weaknesses of the railways in the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe and in the Commonwealth of Independent States, this Round Table comes to a series of inescapable conclusions for anyone wishing to address these issues.

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