Launched mid-September 2011 by the French government, the Rail conference meant to decide the future of the train system in France. Four commissions (Europe, governance, economics, rail industry) auditioned a thousand people (trade unions, operators, manufacturers, shippers, users associations, elected officials) during three months and make recommendations (in French)
The French transport minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM), already made three decisions, "the other proposals are not yet adjudicated" she said at a press conference :
- from 2014, an "experiment" to open to competition local train services (TER) "in region which are willing to do it". Subsidized trains, the "TET (Corail Intercity, Teoz and Lunéa), will also be deregulated in 2014. These trains are subsidized by the French State until the end of 2013.
Deregulation will be implemented "in an harmonized social environment" for railway employees, said NKM. In other words, once a collective agreement for national passenger rail transport will be signed. Same kind of social agreement that the one which is under process for rail freight (read).
But it does not apply to SNCF agents because of their special status which offers job security, retirement at the age of 50 for train drivers, and 55 for others, etc.
According to Guillaume Pepy, SNCF CEO, the coexistence of two different social systems leads to a distortion of competition between the public roperator and private companies (they have 20% market share of freight rail).
The future agreement for passengers rail "will involve all companies, public and private", stressed out the Minister of Transport.The challenge is to clearly define the conditions of transfer of SNCF employees if a private company wins a market. Without touching the famous SNCF status.
- On rail governance, NKM decided to unify the infrastructure manager by combining SNCF Infra, the Rail traffic department (DCF currently attached to SNCF) and RFF.
The Public transport union (UTP), which represents private railway companies as well as the public SNCF has the same position on the matter.
"I asked State specialists, RFF and SNCF to make proposals for a new rail organization and suggest a timetable by next spring," said the minister who believes that the "status quo is no longer possible", ie a two-headed management of the rail network. Who to be beheaded : RFF or SNCF?
Will the French government choose the British rail model which clearly separates the operator from the management of railway infrastructure ? Or the German model where Deutsche Bahn also has jurisdiction over infrastructure management with its subsidiary DB Netz ? "None of the two, we are thinking of a third solution, a French model whic needs to be euro-compatible," said NKM. Another challenge for the French government.
NKM also said that non-discriminatory conditions of access in French train stations for public and private companies which led to an official draft ("Décret gare") will soon be signed. It has already been approved by the State Council.
- Finally, NKM announced the creation of "Fer de France", "a cooperative structure for the French railway industry to strengthen the competitiveness of manufacturers abroad". Its chairman must be appointed in February 2012.
Nathalie Arensonas (1) UTP represents private operators and the public rail company SNCF, AFRA only represents private operators (Veolia, Trenitalia, Colas Rail, Euro Cargo Rail, T3M, Europorte, Vossloh).