The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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On the Wrong Track

The impact of European Union legislation on Britain’s railways

John Petley 


Britain has consistently been ahead of the game where EU railway legislation is concerned. We broke up a monolithic network, ran private trains and encouraged competition long before the EU told us to. However, as Britain’s horizontally fragmented network - the uniquely British franchise system - is in tune with Brussels’ thinking, if we wanted to revert to either a nationalised railway or vertical integration along the lines of the pre-nationalisation era, we could not actually do so while a member of the EU.

And even with the current convergence between Britain and Brussels on many railway matters, European legislation has caused far more problems for our railway network than would be expected, due to Brussels’ obsession with breaking down national barriers. Having eliminated border crossings in the Schengen Area, the EU is determined to create a harmonised pan-European rail network similarly free from national boundaries.

From the UK’s perspective, even though several aspects of the proposals are modelled on Britain’s rail privatisation, the European Union’s increasing interference is likely to be detrimental to rail operation in this country in several areas.For example:-

The one trial implementation of the European Rail Traffic Management System on a single route in Wales has still not been completed, in spite of costing £59 million – over 10% of the cost of implementing Train Protection Warning System over the entire network.

A European Commission proposal on giving priority to international freight trains on a busy UK trunk route, which if implemented could add 25 minutes onto passenger journey times only a few years after a £9 billion upgrade to speed them up.

The possible costs of the planned extension of the Interoperability Directive to cover domestic train services will be expensive. Bearing in mind an earlier directive cost the UK over £80 million in implementation costs just for the very limited number of international trains that run here.
The longer Britain remains in the EU the longer we will be locked into its thinking on railways. Even as things stand, with so few international trains ever likely to run in Britain compared with other member states, the benefits of regaining control of our railways are obvious. Surely the nation that gave railways to the world deserves the freedom to determine the direction that its own network should take.

Click here to read the full research online