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National Assembly Passes Laws Reforming Railway Sector

Ljubljana, 16 December (STA) - The National Assembly on Thursday passed two pieces of legislation that thoroughly overhaul the railway sector. The amended railway act addresses the issue of investment, while the new act on the rail operator Slovenske zeleznice alters the structure of the state-owned company.

Changes to the investment policy introduce a distinction between construction, and renovation/maintenance.

Construction projects will henceforth be carried out by a state-owned company, either a new one or by the state-owned engineering company DDC.

The company will be in charge of all state investment in railways, as the infrastructure will be owned by the state and not the infrastructure company. Otherwise, state investments would be treated as illegal state aid according to EU regulations.

All upgrades on the existing infrastructure will be carried out by companies selected through public tenders, while renovation and maintenance work will be carried out by Slovenske zeleznice.

In the debate, deputies raised concerns about the planned splitting of investments.

Lojze Posedel of the coalition Zares said this might hamper access to EU cohesion funds, while Janez Ribic of the opposition People's Party (SLS) noted that putting two entities in charge might prove inefficient.

Also concerned were the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) deputies. MP Anton Urh said Transport Minister Patrick Vlacic was in a hurry to get the motion to parliament, which is why it was not properly coordinated.

The opposition Democrats (SDS) denied support to the changes with Branko Marinic saying that the spending of public money would not be transparent.

Plans for restructuring of Slovenske zeleznice meanwhile involve the establishment of a holding company which will combine three core divisions of the operator: infrastructure, passenger transport and freight transport.

Public railway infrastructure will be managed by company Infrastructure, while passenger transport will become more market-oriented.

Deputies wondered about the necessity of the new legislation, given that a holding company could be formed simply through changes to the company's articles of association. They also voiced concern over the fate of the company in case of bankruptcy.

The most critical were the National Party (SNS) and SDS.

SNS leader Zmago Jelincic expressed doubts about the money flow among the companies within the holding, suggesting that the ruling coalition would "fill their pockets".

Marinic, however, said that the railway legislation had been modernised by the previous government rendering any changes unnecessary.

The amendments to the railway act were endorsed in a 53:22 vote, while the new act on Slovenske zeleznice received the support of 50 deputies with 26 voting against.

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