European Commission approves German measures worth over €2.5 billion to support rail freight and passenger operators affected by the coronavirus outbreak

The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, two German schemes supporting the rail freight sector and the long-distance rail passenger sector in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The measures approved today will help rail freight and passenger operators in Germany weather the difficult situation caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The measures will contribute to maintaining the competitiveness of rail compared to other modes of transport, in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal. We continue working with all Member States to ensure that national support measures can be put in place as quickly and effectively as possible, in line with EU rules.”

The two schemes will ensure increased public support to further encourage the shift of freight and passenger traffic from road to rail.

Support under the schemes will take the form of a reduction of the charges paid by railway companies to access rail infrastructure in both the rail freight and the long-distance rail passenger sectors. The measures will thereby help prevent the loss of market shares of rail transport vis-à-vis competing modes of transport.

The first measure, which has an estimated budget of €2.1 billion, will relieve long-distance rail passenger operators of approximately 98% of the infrastructure charges paid during the period from 1 March 2020 to 31 May 2022.

The second measure amends an existing aid scheme of 2018 supporting rail freight operators in Germany. With an estimated budget of €410 million, the amendment increases the support approximately 98% of the infrastructure charges paid by rail freight operators during the period from 1 March 2020 to 31 May 2021. The measure follows a similar budget increase for the period from 1 June to 31 December 2021, approved by the Commission last May.

The Commission found that the measures are beneficial for the environment and for mobility as they support rail transport, which is less polluting than road transport, while also decreasing road congestion. The Commission also found that the measures are proportionate and necessary to achieve the objective pursued, namely to support the modal shift from road to rail whilst not leading to undue competition distortions.

Finally, the reduction of infrastructure charges is in line with Regulation (EU) 2020/1429. This Regulation allows and encourages Member States to temporarily authorise the reduction, waiver or deferral of charges for accessing rail infrastructure below direct costs.

As a result, the Commission concluded that the measures comply with EU State aid rules, in particular the 2008 Commission Guidelines on State aid for railway undertakings (“the Railway Guidelines”).

 

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