The European Commission has called on the UK and France to look into the pricing structure of rail travel through the Channel tunnel linking the two nations. It said passengers had to pay far too much.
The EU executive on Thursday asked the governments of France and the UK to look into pricing policies related to rail traffic through the Channel Tunnel and comply with EU rules against excessive charges.
The Commission in Brussels assumed rail operators might be overcharged to use the tracks and said capacities were reserved for a number of railway companies "in a restrictive way."
It said the high fees were being passed on to passengers and freight companies were complaining they could not afford to send more goods through the tunnel and had to use road transport instead.
"The Channel Tunnel is not being used to its full capacity because of excessive charges," EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said in a statement. "Passengers are paying over the odds for their tickets."
Kallas was critical of restrictive agreements granting some rail operators guaranteed capacities for as long as 65 years. With some of these rights not exploited entirely and prices too prohibitive for other operators to fill the gaps, the EU executive claimed that 43 percent of the tunnel's overall capacity was not being used as a result.
Brussels also criticized the Channel Tunnel regulator, the Intergovernmental Commission (IGC), was not independent enough to adopt decisions on its own initiative.
"Lack of independence of a rail regulator can lead to failure to address complaints in an appropriate manner or to adopt decisions to force compliance with EU rules and can thus lead to distortions in competition."
Paris and London now have two months to reply to the allegations and rectify irregularities where needed, or else face court procedures or possible fines.
hg/msh (dpa, Reuters)