The network statement is the document from the infrastructure manager which contains all the information that applicants need to use the railway infrastructure.
The 6 chapters of the network statement are related to the following items:
- General information;
- Requirements to request capacity and the conditions to access the railway net;
- Description of the railway infrastructure;
- Modalities and rules regarding the allocation of capacity;
- Description of the services by Infrabel as well as those by other service facility operators;
- Charging principles for the services by Infrabel.
The network statement can consulted on the Infrabel website:
in Dutch https://infrabel.be/nl/netverklaring
in French https://infrabel.be/fr/networkstatement
The goal of the transport policy of the European Union is to establish a single European railway area in order to, on the one hand, fulfil the mobility needs of all European citizens and the necessity to transport freight and, on the other hand, to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by the transport sector. To realise these goals, transport by rail has been opened step by step for competition. This gradual liberalization has been concluded on January 1st 2019 with the full opening for competition of the transport of passengers by rail. In this framework, the Regulatory Body has the authority to monitor the competition on the different markets of railway services, without prejudice to the competencies of the Belgian Competition Authority.
This means for instance that the Regulatory Body could investigate whether or not there’s a discrimination between railway undertakings.
The legal base of this competence can be found in article 62, § 3, lid 1, 4 °of the Railway Code.
Access to training facilities:
Train drivers who want to circulate on the Belgian rail infrastructure must possess the necessary qualifications to do so. In particular, they must undergo training in a training center approved by the national safety authority (SSICF) and pass the exam.
Three training schools are currently active in Belgium: one from SNCB, one from Lineas (Rail Training Institute) and one from Crossrail.
As a result of the liberalization of freight transport and passenger transport, other railway undertakings can also circulate in Belgium. In order to offer them the possibility of having certified train drivers for this purpose, the legislator has foreseen that the certified training centers should be open to third parties. They are therefore not allowed to act discriminatively when providing their training.
The prices charged by the training centers must also not be discriminatory. In other words, they must charge every participant in a training the same price for the same service. Moreover, the legislation stipulates that the price must be related to the cost of the service. However, the price may include a fair margin.
Since the conditions for non-discriminatory access and the price setting are aspects of economic regulation, the Regulatory Body is authorized to launch a monitoring mission in order to verify the certified training centers comply with these requirements or not.
The implementing Act 2017/2177 authorises the Regulatory Body to grant exemptions to service facilities operators from some or a great number of obligations. Nevertheless, there are 2 obligations from which a service facility operator can never be exempt, i.e. providing and publishing minimal information.
First, there is the minimum information that the service facility operator must provide in its service facility document (SFD):
- List of all installations
- Contact information
- Technical characteristics
- Description of the offered services
Second, the service facility operator has the obligation to publish this information on either its website (or on a common portal) or in the network statement of the infrastructure manager.
Conditions for granting an exemption
An exemption can be granted when of the following conditions has been met:
- When the Regulatory Body considers the service facility of no strategic importance for the functioning of the market.
- When the Regulatory Body considers there’s enough competition on the market between multiple service facility operators providing similar services.
- When the Regulatory Body considers that a normal application of certain obligations in the implementing act would have a negative impact on the functioning of the market.
- Operators of service facilities which are exclusively for the use by a historic operator can request to be exempted from all obligations.
How to apply for an exemption?
The operator itself introduces an application sufficiently motivated. The Regulatory Body examines every request on an individual bases.
When an exemption is granted, the Regulatory Body publishes this decision on its website within 2 weeks. When the criteria for granting an exemption are no longer met, the Regulatory Body can revoke this decision.
To ensure that granting exemptions is done in a consistent manner in Europe, the Regulatory Bodies have developed common principles. These principles can be found here.
Impact of an exemption
Operators of a service facility can only be exempt from the obligations in the Implementing Act. The Belgian legislation, i.e. the Railway Code, also contains obligations for service facilities. These obligations are applicable to all service facilities and for which no exemption can be granted.
Service facility description (SFD document):
To ensure that all applicants have a non-discriminatory access to the service facility and the services provided therein, transparency about the terms of access is absolutely necessary. For that reason the Implementing Act imposes service facility operators to draft a document (SFD) containing all necessary information. Article 4 of the Implementing Act details the minimum list of information that must be included in the SFD.
As such SFD is only useful when publicly available, the Implementing Act imposes service facility operators to publish their SFD on their own website or in the network statement of the infrastructure manager. When chosen for the first option, only a link to the SFD must be provided to the infrastructure manager.
When a service facility operator wants to publish in the network statement he could use a template which has been developed by the European infrastructure managers. This template is available here.
The link to the webpage where the SFD is available or the filled in template can be sent to Infrabel on [email protected]
Multiple operators in a service facility
In case there is more than 1 entity operating the service facility, or when there is more than 1 provider of services in the facility, all parties must cooperate to ensure that the respective SFD’s are available in one place or to indicate in every SFD clearly which operator or provider is responsible for which access to which service.
In case this cooperation between the parties fails, the Regulatory Body can appoint one of them with this task. The cost related to this shall be equally split amongst all parties.
Role of the Regulatory Body
The SFD are part of the network statement and therefore subject to control by the Regulatory Body. This means that the Regulatory Body can monitor if the service facility has established a SFD and if all legally required information has been provided and published.
According to article 9 §4 of the Railway Code, the Regulatory Body determines the reasonable time limit for service facility operators in which they must respond to requests for access to and supply of services in service facilities. Different deadlines may be set for different types of service facilities and/or services. Until now the Regulatory Body determined a reasonable time limit for request to access railway stations.
In Belgium, Infrabel is the owner of the railway network. Nevertheless, the NMBS has been granted a gratuitously perpetual easement on the platforms, the underpasses, and all access ways to the railway stations operated by the NMBS. This means the NMBS has the right to use (maintain, repair, install and renovate) these infrastructure elements with the aim of executing their public service duty (as meant in article 156, 1° and 5° of the Law of 21 March 1991 on public companies).
The Regulatory Body is competent to verify if this perpetual easement does not hinder the right of access of railway undertakings to the Belgian railway net and the service facilities (and the services provided on the net and in the service facilities).
Legal basis of this competence is laid down in article 62 §3, 1st paragraph, 10° of the Railway Code.
Renewal operating license:
The operating license, which is the license issued for an indefinite period to operate Brussels Airport, must be renewed in certain cases.
The regulations list the situations in which the airport operator must submit a request for renewal to the Regulatory Body. More specifically, it concerns changes to the company of the licensee itself, such as a change of control, a merger, a division, or the transfer of the license itself.
The request for renewal must be submitted to the Regulatory Body before the operation takes place.
The Regulatory Body then examines the application for renewal on the basis of certain criteria that are provided for by the regulations. He can request additional information from the airport operator.
Within 20 working days after the submission of a complete dossier by the licensee, the Regulatory Body issues an advice to the Minister of Mobility, with a proposal to decide whether or not to renew the license. The Minister must make a final decision within 80 working days from the submission of the complete file by the operator.
If the renewal is granted, it will be announced by Royal Decree. If the renewal is refused, the operator will be informed accordingly. If no decision is taken within 80 working days, the license is automatically renewed.
Revision operating licence:
The Regulatory Body can advise the King to adapt certain conditions of the license of the operator of Brussels Airport or to impose additional conditions if he considers that the existing conditions are inadequate.
The regulations provide a number of reasons why the existing conditions of the license may no longer be suitable.
The final decision to revise the license is taken by the King after consultation with the airport operator.
The latter can also request a revision of his operating conditions from the Regulatory Body. Within a period of 20 working days after the submission of a complete dossier, it issues an advice to the Minister of Mobility, who finally decides on the revision of the license.
If the revision is granted, it will be announced by Royal Decree. If the revision is refused, the operator will be informed accordingly.
Revoke operating license:
In legally predefined situations, the Regulatory Body can issue an advice to withdraw the operating license of the airport operator.
In case of serious misconduct, the Regulatory Body must first give the license holder a notice of default and set a time limit within which the holder must put an end to the situation that gave rise to the notice of default.
If the situation is not remedied, the King grants a second term to remedy the faulty situation.
If the situation is not resolved after the expiry of the second period, the operating license can be withdrawn by Royal decree without any compensation but with a notice period. A preliminary advice from the Regulatory Body is mandatory in such cases.
Monitoring license conditions:
The privatisation of Brussels Airport operations in 2004 goes hand in hand with a licence system: the Belgian government granted an operating licence to the Brussels Airport Company. This licence imposes requirements regarding the operation of the airport such as safety, development of the airport, noise control etc. The Regulatory Body is competent to monitor on its own initiative if these requirements have been met by Brussels Airport Company.
This means, for instance, that the Regulatory Body can verify if Brussels Airport Company, in the framework of operating the airport, fulfils its obligation to make airlines comply with the noise levels.