The committee confirmed the need to implement the so-called technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package, which includes safety and interoperability directives as well as measures to strengthen the role of the European Railway Agency (ERA).
Under the proposed legislation ERA would become a one-stop shop issuing EU-wide approvals for rolling stock and safety certificates for operators, following a four-year transition during which these responsibilities would gradually be transferred from national safety authorities. The committee says a clear distribution of tasks between ERA and national safety bodies would be established during the transiton period, and ERA could delegate specific tasks and responsibilities to national safety bodies on the basis of contractual agreements. However, ERA would have the final say on all authorisation procedures.
After this period, ERA would be responsible for issuing a single safety certificate to all railway operators, except for those using "isolated networks," such as the broad-gauge system in the Baltic States.
Welcoming the vote, Mr Phillipe Citroën, director general of the European Rail Industry Association (Unife) said: "The rail sector urgently needs the Technical Pillar. It will enhance the competitiveness of rail as a transport mode and the global competitiveness of the European rail industry."
The committee also agreed that member states should be able to choose between an integrated structure or a single holding company for the incumbent train operator and infrastructure manager, albeit with "strict requirements" for financial separation and transparency. The European Commission (EC) says this is vital to ensure non-discriminatory access to the network in member states where a vertically-integrated structure is retained.
The Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Managers (CER) said it is disappointed with the vote results on separation requirements, and says it will continue to plead for more flexible arrangements in the choice of governance models. "I have to state that this vote is a mixed bag for Europe's railways," says CER executive director Mr Libor Lochman. "The EC's proposal on the issue of governance has not been sufficiently amended. Governance models have to respect varying conditions across the member states."
On the market pillar of the package, which includes directives on governance, market opening, regulation, and public service obligations, the committee endorsed the objective of opening domestic commercial passenger services to competition by 2019.
The committee backed measures to restrict the size of public service obligation (PSO) contracts and encourage greater competition in this sector. Under the proposed legislation, member states will only be permitted to place direct-award PSO contracts under certain conditions, which would require most contracts to be let through competitive tendering by 2022.
This measure is being resisted by industry bodies including the International Public Transport Association (UITP), European Passenger Transport Operators (Epto), and European Metropolitan Transport Authorities (Emta), which last week expressed concern over the potential impact on urban and local public transport.
The European Parliament is expected to vote in plenary on the Fourth Railway Package in February 2014.