Single European railway area. The Court of Justice rules on the access to service facilities and to rail-related services

On 15 July 2021, the Court of Justice handed down its judgment in Case C‑60/20, ‘Latvijas Dzelzceļš’ VAS v Valsts dzelzceļa administrācija, on the interpretation of Article 13(2) and (6) of Directive 2012/34/EU and of Article 15(5) and (6) of Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/2177. The request has been made in proceedings between ‘Latvijas Dzelzceļš’ VAS (“Latvijas”) and the Valsts dzelzceļa administrācija (National Latvian Railway Authority) concerning the latter’s decision imposing on Latvijas, in its capacity as manager of the public railway infrastructure in Latvia, an obligation to guarantee access for the railway undertaking ‘Baltijas Ekspresis’ AS (“Baltijas”) to the depot in Ventspils (Latvia) as a “service facility” within the meaning of the applicable rail transport legislation.

On 5 September 2017, Latvijas notified Baltijas that it was unilaterally terminating the lease agreement for the locomotive depot building in Ventspils, where the latter carried out maintenance and repair of locomotives, wishing to re-allocate it in order to store its rolling stock used for the maintenance of railway infrastructure. However, following the complaint lodged by Baltijas, the Railway Authority ordered Latvijas to guarantee access to the Ventspils depot, as a service facility, and to the services supplied there. Therefore, after bringing an action for annulment of that decision before the Administratīvā rajona tiesa (District Administrative Court), Latvijas lodged an appeal against its dismissal before the Administratīvā apgabaltiesa (Regional Administrative Court of Latvia; the “referring court”), which, in light of the need to interpret the relevant European legislation, decided to stay the proceedings and to refer three questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.

By the first question, the referring court asked whether Article 13(2) and (6) of Directive 2012/34 must be interpreted as meaning that the obligation to supply all railway undertakings with non-discriminatory access to service facilities, within the meaning of Article 3(11) of that directive, referred to in point 2 of Annex II thereto, may be imposed by the regulatory body not only on the operators of service facilities, but also on the owners of such facilities who are not the operators of those facilities.

According to the Court, however, Article 13(2) of Directive 2012/34 cannot be interpreted as meaning that the obligation to guarantee non-discriminatory access to service facilities also applies to the owner of the facility concerned, where that owner cannot be regarded as its operator, within the meaning of Article 3(12) of that directive.

By the second question, the referring court asked whether Article 13(6) of Directive 2012/34 must be interpreted as allowing the owner of a building housing a service facility, within the meaning of Article 3(11) of that directive, to terminate a lease agreement relating to that building in order to reallocate the latter to its own use.

According to the Court, however, the possibility for the owner of an infrastructure to terminate, on the basis of national law, its lease agreement and to reconvert the infrastructure itself cannot be assessed on the basis of Article 13(6) of Directive 2012/34, in so far as that provision presupposes that the service facility concerned has not been in use for at least two consecutive years.

In view of the answer given to the second question, the Court deemed it unnecessary to answer to the third one, by which the referring court asked whether Article 13(6) of Directive 2012/34 must be interpreted as meaning that it obliges the regulatory body to establish only whether the service facility operator really has decided to reconvert.

Marco Stillo