The informal agreement on the market pillar of the Fourth Railway Package covers access to the EU member states' domestic passenger rail markets for EU train operators. It will also provide safeguards to prevent conflicts of interest and increase transparency between train operators and infrastructure managers, which has been a major hindrance for open-access operators.

Competitive tendering will become the norm across the EU for awarding public service contracts according to the agreed text. Direct award contracts for passenger services will still be possible, but only in justified cases. There has been a fear among existing operators of passenger concessions that some countries would abuse this to continue awarding contracts to incumbents.

"European rail needs a strong competitive impulse if it wants to continue playing a central role in the successful functioning of European economies," says Mr Wim van de Camp, Dutch rapporteur for the proposal on award of public service contracts. "Currently direct awarding, without any competitive bidding is the norm. In the new text we agree it should become an exception. Bidding based on objective criteria will improve the quality and affordability of the services for passengers and boost competitiveness for the sector as a whole."

"Finally we have a good deal after seven months of negotiations," says Mr David-Maria Sassoli, Italian rapporteur for the proposal for market opening and governance of rail infrastructure. "All the European Parliament proposals have been accepted: on the powers of the regulatory body, on avoiding conflicts of interest between operators and infrastructure managers and on ticketing, but above all on open-access for high-speed rail. The market is now open, even if this happens 20 years after it took place in the aviation sector."

"I'm very happy that we are in a position to close these long negotiations on the Fourth Railway Package," says Ms Merja Kyllönen, Finnish rapporteur for the proposal to repeal the regulation on normalisation of accounts. "The final approval of the so called technical pillar is very much anticipated by our rail sector."

The informal agreement now needs to be approved by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament.