TWO schemes worth more than a combined €2.5bn that will support the German rail freight and long-distance passenger sectors have been approved by the European Commission (EC) under European Union (EU) state aid rules.

The support will be achieved through a reduction of charges paid by rail operators in both sectors to access rail infrastructure. This is seen to be required in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and will also ensure increased public support to encourage modal shift from road to rail.

The first measure, worth €2.1bn, will relieve long-distance passenger operators of approximately 98% of infrastructure charges paid from March 1 2020 until May 31 2022.

The other measure amends an existing aid scheme agreed in December 2018 that supports rail freight operators in Germany. Under that scheme, which had a €350m annual budget, operators would be compensated for up to 45% of access charges. The new scheme has a €410m annual budget and increases the support for those charges to approximately 98% for the period March 1 2020 to May 31 2021. That follows a similar budget increases approved by the EC last year for the period March 1 2020 to May 21 2021 and June 1 to December 31 2021.

“The measures will contribute to maintaining the competitiveness of rail compared with other modes of transport, in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal,” says Ms Margrethe Vestager, EC executive vice-president.

The infrastructure access charge reduction regulation allows and encourages member states to authorise, temporarily, the waiving or deferral of charges for track access below direct costs.