LETTERS

JOUSTING FOR

FREIGHT BUSINESSYour May 7 article, ''Dutch railway soon may use foreign tracks'' (Page 1B) turned the liberalization of the European railways into a story about medieval knights. You suggested that Netherlands Railways (NS) was set to establish a name for itself on foreign rails in the near future, and that this would be a direct assault on Deutsche Bahn, Germany's state-owned railway. In other words, David against Goliath.

What is actually happening? The liberalization of the European rail network is in full swing. In every European country, the rail infrastructure is being uncoupled, in one way or another, from the national rail operator that originally established this infrastructure and which has, up to now, been the sole user. This uncoupling makes the rail infrastructure accessible to other railway companies.

But this formal opening up of the infrastructure is not the only precondition. Physical space also must be available. This is a particular problem because the European railway infrastructure is heavily used for passenger transport during the day.

Furthermore, with regard to international rail traffic, the technical compatibility of the various national systems (contact-line voltage and train measurements, for example) also must be properly arranged. Knowledge of foreign transport markets is also required.

The first newcomers to the Dutch railways probably will limit their activities to the Netherlands. We expect them within the next few months. They will be small, nationally operating companies that wish to operate train services on a limited number of routes. On the international routes, expect that existing rail companies - possibly in cooperation with third parties - initially will be using each other's networks. But, for the time being, the successful international services are more likely to come about through new joint ventures than from cutthroat, direct competition.

Open competition on the European rail network - from which the customer also will benefit - will only function once the infrastructure is upgraded and sufficient capacity is available. Only then will there be a level playing field for the operators. The speed of liberalization of the European railways, therefore, greatly depends on the national governments that control the infrastructure.

Rene Holdert

Press information officer

NS Cargo

Utrecht, Netherlands

MERCHANT SHIPS:

KEY TO US SECURITY

I am writing in response to your April 22 opinion article by William du Barry Thomas (''A plan to save the fleet,'' Page 11A).

As a career naval officer, now retired, I spent almost 20 years attached to either the Naval Control and Protection of Shipping Program or the Military Sealift Command operation units directly supporting the use of civilian ships in time of national emergency.

Solutions became increasingly more difficult as the fleet began to shrink. Also, as commercial shipping made a major transition to containerized movements, the types of U.S. bottoms available to transport large, non-container freight, as well as roll-on, roll-off units, became almost nonexistent.

U.S.-flag vessels built under federal subsidy terms were required to have special construction designs that make the vessel more adaptable to government needs. If the government has absolutely no say over the transport platforms they supposedly will have available to them, they are basing national security on pot-luck.

Donald W. Babcock

Derry, N.H.

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