French rail chiefs may sue Britain over charges

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The Independent Online
THE FRENCH railway network, SNCF, is threatening to sue the British government if its plans to privatise the railways lead to prohibitively high track charges for freight.

In a letter to the Commons transport committee, SNCF's director of freight, Alain Poinssot, expressed concern over the privatisation plans. These stipulate that the new authority responsible for the track, Railtrack, has to act commercially to cover its costs and achieve return on capital.

'If such a policy were introduced in Britain it would seem to us discriminatory with the conditions obtaining in the competing road transport market, where infrastructure costs are largely assumed by the community as a whole,' Mr Poinssot said.

SNCF is worried that if British charges are too high freight to France will not use rail, affecting the viability of SNCF's investment in the TGV Nord, which will serve the Channel tunnel.

High charges would, Mr Poinssot said, 'preclude the achievement of any of the traffic goals which formed the basis for calculating the financial commitments of the two national rail companies vis-a-vis Eurotunnel'.

According to the Railways Bill, tariffs may be set by the new regulator, John Swift QC, who would be charged with establishing the pricing and competition regime after privatisation.