The Communications Committee

The Communications Committee tabled its final report on March 18th, 1997. It was the biggest public inquiry into Swedish government transport policy since 1987. The 1987 inquiry resulted in the split of SJ into the operator SJ and the railway administration Banverket.



The Communications Committee is an inquiry into Swedish transport policy. It is made up of the Director-General of the Environmental Protection Ageny and members from all seven parties in parliament. The Government appoints inquiries and decides what they should inquire (directives). Having representatives from all political parties in the Committee is an attempt at forming a certain degree of consensus so that the new policy will not be junked after the next election (in August 1998).

A first partial report was tabled in March 1996. It was about the next 10-year investment plan for highways and railways, and political influence from the regions on investments in infrastructure. It also included an evaluation of transport policy since 1988. A second partial report was tabled in November 1996. It is infamous for suggesting a yearly 10-öre (about 2 US cents) increase in the price of gasoline till the year 2020. This article will concentrate on the final report which was tabled in March 1997.

More Separations and Reorganizations

Sweden in 1988 started the trend towards separating infrastructure units from the national railways. Now the "capillary" railway network is suggested to be taken over by the National Railway Administration (Banverket). The capillary network is currently owned by the national railway SJ, factories and other private interests. In many cases, there is no money to maintain the turnouts connecting to main lines. Therefore, the Committee advocates subsidizing the network in the same way as private roads are subsidized. A related problem is that SJ owns certain tracks that competing shortlines must pass to get to their destination. Banverket therefore should get the responsibilty to confiscate certain stretches of track in the interest of balanced competition, the Committee thinks.

SJ should be divided into a freight and passenger railway. This is because there are few advantages to producing these very different services in the same company. Passenger trains are getting lighter and faster, while freight trains are getting longer and heavier. There are no common customers and stations / terminals are in different places. Separate companies would ease customer focus, questions of priority and financial responsibility. Separate companies also facilitates government policy to passenger and freight traffic.

The freight division, SJ Gods, may also get new owners in the private sector. (SJ is currently a cross between a government agency and a company, aktiebolag or AB in Swedish). More widespread ownership may increase confidence for the company's services and help move freight from highways to railways. The passenger division should remain government-owned.

Statskontoret, a government body researching public administration and information technology, has in a separate report evaluated the separation of Banverket and SJ. It concluded that certain advantages with co-production have been lost, but that management has been facilitated, also from a government point of view. Banverket has become a useful tool for public railway policy and SJ has unconflicting incentives to efficiency. Certain confusion persists as to the border between SJ and Banverket. (Both said "not my department" when the town of Skövde complained about high speed trains in the city centre)

to the top

Another Step Towards Open Access

Freight services should be deregulated since there isn't room for more than one profitable national freight service, the Committee believes. Taking into consideration economies of scale, an efficient service would be very competetive against most challengers. Therefore, there is no reason for anti-competetive rules for long-distance freight services by rail.

However, the monopoly on long-distance passenger service will be maintained, but only for certain especially attractive point-to-point services. This is to preserve economies of scale. Which services should be included in the monopoly should be discussed further. The point-to-point monopolies mean that only SJ can run service Stockholm-Gothenburg (for example), but any one else may run service between any two points on that stretch as long as the service does not connect Stockholm with Gothenburg (or vice-versa).

to the top

A National Traffic Agent and a Basic Network

The Committee suggests integrating government-subsidized passenger rail services under a National Traffic Agent (Rikstrafiken) which would get responsibility for a Basic Network of buss, train and plane connections. It would initially get 700 million SEK per year, to buy services through competitive tender. Today, the government purchases passenger rail services for 400 million SEK per year, and contributes 200 million SEK to provincial services through a contract which expires at the turn of the century. City councils and provinces currently purchase rail services for 1,8 billion SEK per year.

The National Traffic Agent would coordinate its efforts with those of the provinces, but otherwise provincial services are not affected by the Committee's suggestions. Purchasing more services would entice more providers to market, lowering the price. The NTA will also be involved in the planning of what infrastructure should be built, which should result in better coordination of new infrastructure and traffic.

The question of rolling stock is still unsolved; many trains need to be replaced by the year 2005 and there is no money for this. The Committee does not believe that rolling stock companies (such as in Britain) are the answer since different transit authorities have differing requirements on the trains. Additionally, nice trains can be a competitive edge for an operator, and the Committee does not find it obvious that the provincial transit authorities should own the trains (which they currently do).

to the top

Tax Revenues to Cover Marginal Cost Only

...for roads and railways. The level of the government's investments in these areas will thus be unrelated to how much it raises in revenues from road and rail traffic. This is an important principle for railways, as the government currently invests as much money as SJ makes in revenue (1995: 12 billion SEK) annually in the railways. The investments go to subsidize services, (600 million), new railways (21 billion in the three years 1994-96) and to railway maintenance.

The railway policy from 1988 forbids the government from spending more money on infrastructure than it raises in rail and road tax revenues. The idea was to implement "total cost responsibilty". This was to prevent excessive investment in infrastructure. However, investment in infrastructure is very fashionable in political circles nowadays. Charging for the use of infrastructure should be based on marginal cost, the Committee thinks.

Taxes on vehicles, which according to the transport policy from 1988 should go to paying for infrastructure, should instead go to internalizing external costs. (That means that vehicle tax should equal a theoretical cost for noise, pollution and accidents.)

to the top

More Resources for Policy Follow-Up

The government's institute for communications analysis, SIKA, should get reponsibilty for regularly reporting to the government on how political goals in transport are being reached.

SIKA should also be expanded with a political council, which would serve as a forum for dialogue between civil servants and politicians about political goals, if they are being reached and how policy should be adjusted to reach them. The council would also take part in moulding the government's investment plan in infrastructure. The council would have a holistic view on transport, in contrast to the railway, road, airway and seaway administrations' sectoral view.

This "super-SIKA" is not popular among the conservative opposition. They think that user charges should go straight to the transport administrations, instead of as now to the government.

to the top

What the Parliamentary Opposition Says

The Environment and Left parties have separate reservations, while the Moderates (conservatives), Liberals and Christian Democrats have made a common reservation. The Social Democrats and the Centre Party form the majority in the Committee. The three right-wing parties make some general political statements in their reservation.

What most differs the right wingers from the centrists is that they want to completely deregulate the railways, but this is not radically different from the majority's suggestions to leave nothing but a few point-to-point relations in SJs monopoly. The Left and Environment parties want tougher environmental measures, but do not condemn any of the majority's principal suggestions. The reservations show that, generally speaking, there is a consensus on future transport policy.

to the top