FRANCE’S rail regulator, ART, has published its decision to settle a dispute between four freight operators and infrastructure manager SNCF Network over technical and operational conditions for access to the national network.

ART has granted two-thirds of the requests made by the complainants, and has issued injunctions requiring SNCF Network to improve these access conditions and the quality of service offered to freight operators.

The case had been referred to ART by Captrain France (itself an SNCF subsidiary), T3M, Europorte France and Régiorail on February 22 2021, in order for the regulator to settle their dispute with SNCF Network.

The freight operators made 30 requests, asking ART to direct SNCF Network to change the procedures for allocating train paths, and for reserving capacity so that infrastructure maintenance and upgrade work can be carried out by SNCF Network, as well as how this capacity is used.

The complainants also sought changes to the principles and procedures for compensation and complaints.

In its decision, ART has directed SNCF Network to improve the transparency of the criteria and processes set out in its network statement for the various stages of the path allocation process.

Also to be improved is the transparency of the information provided to operators on the scheduling and use of capacity reserved for infrastructure work.

SNCF Network is directed to introduce penalty mechanisms that would encourage it to comply with specific deadlines in the network statement for processing some categories of path requests and complaints from railway operators.

These penalty mechanisms would also avoid situations that are detrimental to network access, such as the failure by SNCF Network to effectively use capacity reserved for infrastructure work.

ART has directed SNCF Network to establish and publish new indicators for monitoring its performance as an infrastructure manager, and to change its principles and procedures for compensating operators to make them more equitable.

This particularly applies to cases where the infrastructure manager, on its own initiative, withdraws or degrades the condition of a previously allocated path.

ART has also recommended that SNCF Network carries out an exhaustive restructuring of the upstream phases of the capacity allocation process, in order to move towards a more optimal and fairer use of the network.

The complainants’ requests dismissed by ART include those seeking to abolish the procedure for allocating paths on a conditional rather than a firm basis, as well as setting targets for increasing the proportion of paths allocated on a firm basis with each working timetable.

ART has also dismissed requests to extend the deadlines imposed on SNCF Network to confirm capacity reserved for works.

The regulator says that the implementation of its injunctions and recommendations should enable more intensive use of the national network within the context of developing freight and the opening up of the passenger market to competition, taking into account the specific needs and constraints of freight operators.

They should also produce better coordination between the capacity needs of freight operators and the capacity required to undertake infrastructure work, as well as more transparent access conditions for the national network.

ART believes that its requirements should improve the quality of the service provided by SNCF Network and its monitoring, which it says will be a crucial factor in improving the competitiveness of rail freight and meeting the objective of doubling modal share by 2030, as set out in the National Rail Freight Development Strategy.