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How the 2021 European Year of Rail can support the European Green Deal

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Germanwatch together with the Civil Affairs Institute, ProRail, France Nature Environment, eco-union, Ecodes and Transport&Environment has published a new paper on the challenges of the European Rail system and what has to be done in order to improve it – especially during the Year of Rail.

The 28 pages report is giving a good picture of the situation in Europe, and gives a good priority of the work ahead. Let us quote, and you will find the link to the report below.

While many actors are praising railways, the European rail system is currently not in the best shape to take a central role in transport systems. In almost all EU member states, the importance of rail has declined over the last decades due to a heavy focus on road and aviation. Rail accounts for only 8% of passenger transport, and international rail services in particular are not sufficiently developed. Of the 365 cross-border rail links that once existed, 149 were non-operational in 2018, and today not even all European capital cities are linked by direct rail services. The rail system in the EU is currently not more than a patchwork of national systems, with no comprehensive European strategy.

In the European Year of Rail 2021, the EU and national governments need to seize the opportunity to boost European rail services. This is an excellent moment for initiating a rail renaissance for the following reasons: (1) Covid-19 has reshuffled transport systems and travelling habits; (2) with the European Green Deal, the EU economy is on the brink of a new era; and (3) there is strong political support for rail from actors across the board.

The options for improving international rail are right in front of us on a silver platter. EU institutions and players tend to focus on infrastructure development, but this is expensive and time consuming. Also, rail infrastructure projects are often not matched with measures to simultaneously improve service quality to make efficient use of the new infrastructure. There are low-hanging fruits available to the EU which could boost international rail services immediately, without the need for large scale investments. (…)

Currently, the main obstacles to international services are according to the report:

  • National perspective: incumbent operators focus on their national market (especially on lucrative main routes) and often lack an international vision and experience (e.g. market potential, administrative). Trains stop at ‘at every haystack’, which might make sense from a national perspective, but leads to additional travel times for international services.
  • Administrative hurdles make international services less attractive for operators. For example: they need to apply for track capacity with various infrastructure managers; drivers are required to speak several languages; and rolling stock needs to be designed and licensed for different national electricity, signalling and safety systems. (…)

Vision: Agree on a comprehensive network of European day and night trains, with trains crossing external EU borders into the neighbourhood (especially to the UK, Western Balkans, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia).

>> Find the report here

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