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NMa: ProRail needs to comply with time limits

NS Reizigers, the passenger division of the incumbent Netherlands Railways (NS), has filed a complaint with the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) about various practices by Dutch network infrastructure manager ProRail, by which NS felt to be disadvantaged. In return, ProRail has filed its own complaint with the NMa against NS.

NS files its complaint because of ProRail exceeding various time limits in connection with the process of requesting and allocating network capacity for the 2008 timetable. As manager of the railway infrastructure, ProRail is responsible for capacity allocation, determining which railway undertaking can run trains where and when. The NMa is of the opinion that, having set the time limits in its own Network Statement, ProRail needs to observe these limits, which are used in the process of capacity allocation for the annual timetable. Failure to do so will negatively affect business operations at NS, such as planning of the train schedule, communication with customers and traveler-interest groups, but also rescheduling rosters and rescheduling deployment of equipment and rolling stock. The NMa comes to this conclusion after studying the complaint of NS.

Allocation process of the schedule for maintenance works
NS also complained about the way ProRail had scheduled the rail maintenance works for the 2008 timetable. NS has serious objections against the so-called 'nighttime gaps', which are nighttime maintenance periods of 5,5 hours each and which are scheduled across the entire rail network. ProRail uses these periods to perform regular maintenance of the rail tracks. In the opinion of the NMa, both ProRail and NS should look at each case in which scheduled maintenance works interfere with the transport requests by NS, and then work out a solution for each individual case. The NMa reached a similar decision earlier this year when it dealt with disputes between rail transport companies Syntus, Arriva and Veolia on the one hand and ProRail on the other.

Dispute settlement in the Network Statement
Furthermore, the NMa has decided that ProRail should treat all capacity requests equally when allocating capacity, both from rail transport companies as from ProRail itself for maintenance works. ProRail is therefore required to include a dispute settlement procedure in the Network Statement for settling conflicts between network management and transport requests. This is necessary in case a rail transport company and ProRail cannot reach agreement on capacity allocation during the so-called coordination phase. The NMa ruled against NS on several other points with regard to the allocation process.

Complaint of ProRail
Network infrastructure manager ProRail has filed its own complaint against NS about the so-called liability limit on which both organizations had reached agreement in the Access Agreement. ProRail has given the other rail transport companies twice the opportunity to have a liability limit included in their agreements as well. In the end, all rail transport companies passed up on this opportunity, except for NS. ProRail accepted the agreement with NS, while noting that it would request an opinion on this matter from the NMa. ProRail believes it discriminates against other rail transport companies, since apparently there is no industrywide consensus on the limitation of liability. The NMa dismissed the complaint on the premise that ProRail does not unlawfully discriminate against certain rail transport companies as long as all rail transport companies are given the opportunity to make similar arrangements.

Both cases have been handled by the Office of Transport Regulation, which is the unit within the NMa that enforces the Railway Act, and is a regulatory body in accordance with Article 30 of Directive 2001/14 EC The NMa considers regulation of the capacity allocation in the rail transport industry as one of its main priorities in 2008.