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This note gives an overview of the development of a common European railways policy through the three railway ‘packages’; including recent proposals to recast the First Directive to achieve the long-aspired to goal of a single European Railway Area.

The European Union has been intimately involved in railway development within since 1985 when the White Paper of that year, on completing the internal market, set out the guidelines for the common European transport policy. The aim of the four waves of legislation that followed (an initial Communication and three railway ‘packages) has been to promote the efficiency and competitiveness of European railways through gradual liberalisation:

• the First Railway Package aimed to open up the trans-European rail freight network to international goods services by 2008; it was recast in 2011 to allow operators to run services across the whole of the Union on compatible track, using interoperable equipment;

• the Second Railway Package was designed to provide for a legally and technically integrated EU railway area; and

• the Third Railway Package aimed to revitalise the international rail passenger market by extending competition and establishing a harmonised system of minimum passenger rights, to improve the interoperability of the EU rail system and to enhance the performance and size of the EU rail freight market.

In January 2012 new regulations on interoperability came into force on both the conventional and the high speed rail network. The Commission published its proposals for a Fourth Railway Package in January 2013; this would primarily further liberalise the rail market (though not to the extent previously anticipated) and increase the powers of the European Railway Agency.

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