We want a train union to facilitate travel in Europe
By EU Parliament candidates Alice Bah Kuhnke (MP), Jakop Dalunde (MP) and Pär Holmgren (MP):
Published in Swedish newspaper DN on 13.4. 2019
The Green Party goes to elections on a historic railway reform: the realization of a European train union. We need to make a green transition to a Europe where we travel more by train, and fly less. Therefore, we propose that a European air tax should finance a refurbishment of Europe’s railways, write three of the Green Party’s candidates to the European Parliament.
More and more people in Sweden want to travel by train in Europe. But there is a lot that needs to be changed in order for trains to be seriously a competitive alternative to the flight. The Green Party has for several years in the EU Parliament worked for simpler train travel. We know that the problems can be addressed if the political will exists. The Green Party is therefore making a choice on a historic railway reform: the realization of a European train union.
Many barriers to rail travel within Europe are due to poor coordination of European rail systems. While the EU has a common market with free movement of goods, services and people, rail policy is still governed by national interests.
We believe that these problems can be solved with a common European train strategy that coordinates train systems and moves away from nationalist train policy. The increased demand for rail travel between countries suggests that rail policy is an area where citizens want more European integration.
A European train union should be based on the following proposals:
1. Strengthen the European train authority. Today, there are 11,000 national rules for the rail network in the EU. Smooth foreign travel by train is made more difficult by the fact that each country has its own operator licenses, track fees and large differences in regulations and signaling systems. One concrete example is that train drivers must speak the language of the country where they drive, which causes unnecessary difficulties in finding train drivers for cross-border traffic.
It is clear that the attempts at coordination have been inadequate. The European Union Railway Agency (ERA) must be given a clearer mandate to coordinate train services and also provide sufficient resources to carry out its mission.
The ERA must ensure that Member States simplify rules, coordinate traffic and build the paths agreed upon. Otherwise, the railway networks risk becoming a patchwork of national paths that are not well interconnected. EU funds often go to purely national train investments instead of projects that link countries together. This seriously undermines the added value of the common rail investment.
2. Introduce comprehensive train legislation. Today’s regulations need to be simpler and clearer to create a composite European rail system. Although the fourth railway package is a step in the right direction, there are still no laws that make reality the rules that already exist. The EU Court of Auditors has strongly criticized the failure to comply with the decisions in current train strategies. The long-term plans must therefore be supplemented with control stations and sufficient resources to reach the goals.
We want to promote a coherent regulatory framework for train travel within the EU, with tools that lead to simpler train travel and an ambition for a cohesive European train union. This should be made clear in legislation.
3. Simplify train bookings. It needs to be easier to book interconnected train trips on the continent. Unlike when booking a flight, there is no common booking system where it is possible to book train travel between different EU countries. Travelers must, on their own, juggle the trip together and book all sections separately. The reason is that some train companies do not want to be compared with competitors and therefore oppose open booking systems.
Last November, the European Parliament voted for our green proposal to open up the booking systems. When our proposal is now to be negotiated in the EU Council of Ministers, the Government has good opportunities to convince other Member States of a system for booking sites where all European train companies are included. Similar legislation already exists in Switzerland and has created a large range of operators offering ticket reservations.
With a simpler booking system, an important competitive advantage for the flight towards the train disappears. The train companies will also benefit from the market for train tickets being expanded from a mostly purely domestic market, to reaching customers throughout Europe.
4. Increase cooperation between train companies on delays. Longer train journeys often require changes between different train companies. Therefore, there must be good cooperation between the train companies, if the train passengers are to feel safe. If a connecting trip is missed due to a delayed train, the passenger must have the right to take the next departing train, even if it is done with another operator. This is also what the European Parliament decided on the initiative of us green.
In the aviation industry, similar systems already exist, and they are seen as completely self-evident. The companies subsequently regulate among themselves who will be responsible for the costs of delays and missed connections. If the railway is to become a well-functioning market, Europe’s politicians must take responsibility for acceptable cooperation also between the train companies. This type of simplification for the traveler could advantageously be carried out within the framework of a common booking system.
5. Financing rail reforms through a European air tax. Major investments are needed to achieve a well-functioning train service in the EU. In addition to building new tracks, investments in many countries are needed to equip and modernize the railway. Not least, considerable resources are required to regain the night trains again. The EU should review the possibilities for procurement of trains between EU countries and provide support for the purchase of new wagons. Providing operators with the possibility of renting wagons through EU funds is an effective way of distributing the financial risks with new night rail lines. In addition, scrapped road fees at night would make it more profitable to invest in sleeping cars.
It’s in a hurry. We need to make a green transition to a Europe where we travel more by train, and fly less. Existing rail projects will be important in this transition. But it will not suffice for the large investments required. We therefore propose that a European air tax should finance a refurbishment of Europe’s railways. It is about time that the airline now begins to pay its climate costs within the EU and that these revenues go to investing in a more sustainable alternative.
Major changes and efforts are needed to ensure that the natural first choice for journeys between the countries within the EU is trains. But that is what climate change requires. The time has come for a railway reform that can give train travel a renaissance in Europe.