EMCC European Monitoring Centre on Change

EMCC dossier on the European railway sector

Since the mid-1990s the railway sector has gone through a period of increasingly rapid change. Much of this is down to a growing demand for transport services, a sustained phase of consolidation due to deregulation and industry reforms, and EU enlargement. This EMCC dossier provides a brief analysis of the trends and drivers of change likely to shape future developments within the sector. It also provides an overview of employment, industrial relations and working conditions in the rail transport sector, highlighting developments in five EU Member States - Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In addition, a series of links to a variety of relevant information sources complements this dossier.

Growing demand for transport services, innovation, consolidation due to deregulation and industry reforms, and EU enlargement all drive change in the railway industry in Europe. The outlook for the market seems to be positive with an expected annual growth rate of 3% to 5%. This should offer opportunities for well-adapted companies to increase their output and create employment, according to industry representatives. To support further growth in the sector, the industry is calling on policymakers to proceed with further liberalisation of national railways and to support the interoperability of European networks as well as to harmonise acceptance, testing and safety rules for equipment.

Trends and drivers of change in the EU railway sector

In response to a request by Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Dimas on the situation within the railway sector, EMCC drew up a brief analysis of the trends and drivers of change likely to shape future developments within the sector. The report, Trends and drivers of change in the railway equipment sector, looks at how current trends impact on the railway equipment industry in Europe. Since developments are closely linked to changes in the market for railway services (transport of goods and passengers via railway), the analysis also contains information about developments in this sector.

The report also outlines the consequences for employment in the sector. To illustrate these, the analysis provides company profiles of two major players in the European market - Alstom S.A. of France and Bombardier Inc. of Canada. Despite positive results in their transport business divisions and favourable industry forecasts, both companies are in the process of implementing large-scale restructurings leading to substantial workforce reductions in Europe. The company profiles also set out a brief description of all manufacturing plants affected by these restructuring plans as announced in the European Restructuring Monitor (ERM).

The full report is available for downloading free of charge as a pdf file (pdf382 kb) by clicking here.

Employment, industrial relations and working conditions in the European rail transport sector

This consolidated report provides an overview of employment, industrial relations and working conditions in the European rail transport sector. It is based on Eurostat data as well as data collected from company reports, and information provided by industry associations, trade unions and consultancies. Given that information on working conditions in the railway sector, particularly quantitative data and employment statistics, has not kept up with changes in the sector, there are some discrepancies not only between aggregate European sectoral data and other sources, but also between these sources.

Since the evolution of working conditions is largely dependent on industrial relations in the sector, the report provides a comparative overview of industrial relations in rail transport in the EU25 and Norway, as well as in the acceding countries, Bulgaria and Romania. It is based on national reports from correspondents of the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO).

Profile of the sector in five EU Member States

The five countries highlighted in the consolidated report - Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom - represent the most important rail markets in the EU (along with France and Spain). The country profiles focus specifically on the European standard gauge railway operator market, which comprises short and long-distance passenger, as well as freight, transport services. For each country, the overall development and market trends in the sector, as well as structure and performance of the main companies, are analysed:

  • Germany’s rail transport sector (pdf1.15Mb) is one of the most important in Europe, not just in relation to its industrial market but also with regard to its operations. Today, competition between the different railway operators is increasing in Germany, particularly in the freight and short-distance passenger transport services sector.
  • Over the last 15 years, the Ialian rail transport market (pdf656kb) has changed, with Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) being transformed into a holding company embracing several specialised companies. A number of new players are also currently active in Italy’s railway freight transport market, with small but increasing market shares.
  • In recent years, the Dutch railway market (pdf428kb) has opened up extensively to greater competition for transport services. Today, the railway sector in the Netherlands encompasses a number of different companies, operating in a highly competitive environment
  • The Swedish rail transport market (pdf368kb) was one of the first in Europe to be liberalised. In 1999, the former national railway group, Statens Järnväger (SJ), was privatised and divided into different independent companies. Today, a large number of private operators are active in the sector in Sweden.
  • The most visible effect of changes in the UK rail transport sector (pdf647kb) has been the privatisation and fragmentation of the train operator companies. In contrast to the rest of Europe, there is no longer a leading national company in the UK's rail transport sector. At the same time and similar to trends witnessed in other European countries, there has been a reduction in employment in the last 10 years.

Link collection

The following is a collection of links providing further information on the European railway sector, and the issues and challenges it faces in the face of further market liberalisation.

European Commission

Rail transport and interoperability

The Rail Transport and Interoperability website by the Directorate-General for Transport and Energy provides access to a wide range of information:

  • an overview of the current situation, which includes the 1991 directive introducing liberalisation into certain areas of rail transport, the 1996 and 2001 White Papers, the infrastructure package and its implementation as well as some articles on European policy;
  • the second and third railway packages, the latter was adopted on 3 March 2004;
  • market monitoring, which consists of webpages with information on different aspects of the markets, such as passenger and freight rail transport developments, relevant legislation, the legal and administrative framework for the implementation of the community railway acquis, the available infrastructure, assets (rolling stock, locomotives), the number and names of licenced railway undertakings and information on the labour market. It also includes a proposal for a Rail Market Monitoring Scheme (RMMS) (pdf 334 kb), and the Rail liberalisation index 2004 (pdf 659 kb, also available in German) developed by IBM and Deutsche Bahn. This is a comparison of the market openings in the rail markets of the EU15 and Norway and Switzerland;
  • all European legislative texts;
  • reports of research projects in the railway sector assessing different aspects of the freight and passenger rail markets and funded through the EU’s Research and Development Framework programmes;
  • a short overview of the EU regulatory framework to facilitate passenger transport by rail;
  • country information on all 25 Member States; these country monographs contain information on the organisation of rail transport, the separation of essential functions as well as information on the main organisations involved.

Energy and transport: figures and main facts

The Statistical pocket book 2003 presents energy and transport statistics for the EU Member States and countries that have applied to join the European Union. Most of the data cover the period 1970-2001. The data are based on a range of sources including Eurostat, international organisations, national statistics, studies and, where no data were available, on estimates.


The Panorama of transport - Statistical overview of transport in the EU highlights the most important features of the transport sector in an enlarged European Union through the trend analysis of historical series. The first part (pdf 4.2 Mb) looks at the sector’s situation and its infrastructure, while the second part (pdf 2.6 Mb) focuses on transport means, enterprises, quantities and performance, safety, environment and energy.

European Transport Forum

The European Transport Forum (ETF) is a free online information service promoted by an independent consulting group. Started in 2003, the portal tracks all issues connected with the European transport sector and provides access to a wide variety of information: official documents published by EU institutions; legislation documents and databases; financing opportunities; statistics; research and studies; and newsletters. Aggregation of sources is mainly done on the basis of transport mode, including rail.

Social partners

Most of the social partner organisations’ websites also provide access to official documents published by EU institutions as well as position papers, and trend and market analyses.

European Transport Workers’ Federation

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) is a pan-European trade union organisation embracing transport trade unions from the European Union and central and eastern European countries. Its website provides information on ETF’s activities aimed at representing and defending the interests of transport workers throughout Europe.

Union of the European Railway Industries

The Union of the European Railway Industries (UNIFE) represents some 100 leading European companies responsible for the design, manufacture, maintenance and refurbishment of guided land transport systems, subsystems and related equipment. Furthermore, UNIFE has 12 national organisations as associated members representing another 900 railway supply companies.

The UNIFE website provides up-to-date rail industry news focusing on EU policy, technology and innovation, infrastructure and environment, market developments and open tenders. However, the full text version of news articles is only accessible to members. The website also provides information on:

Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies

The Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies (CER) brings together 36 railway undertakings and infrastructure companies from the 25 Member States of the European Union, the two candidate countries Bulgaria and Romania, as well as Switzerland and Norway. It represents its members’ interests vis-à-vis the European institutions, policymakers and other actors in the transport sector. As part of its remits, the CER liaises closely with the International Union of Railways (UIC).

The CER website looks at policy issues, keeps an up-to-date calendar of events within the railway sector and provides direct access to all its press releases, position papers and publications. It also publishes a regular newsletter summarising its views on developments in EU railway policy and the railway business.

International Union of Railways

The International Union of Railways (UIC) is the worldwide organisation for cooperation among railway companies. Its role is to promote cooperation between railways and to carry out activities to develop international transport by rail, including tasks such as:

  • preparing standards, regulations and recommendations to facilitate international traffic;
  • carrying out projects, particularly in the field of international passenger and freight transport, infrastructure management and research;
  • promoting exchanges of information and experience, and international training schemes;
  • concluding agreements with intergovernmental organisations and cooperating with all organisations specialising in rail matters and transport issues.

The UIC portal is a rich information source regarding all aspects of the railway transport sector. Of particular interest are:

  • the documentation centre with over 5,000 publications (reports, studies, congress proceedings, statistics, normative documents, etc.), over 1,500 annual company reports and 1,500 research conclusions;
  • the thematic bibliographies on specific topics, which can be downloaded free of charge;
  • the full access to EU legislation texts.
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