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Interoperability of the trans-European rail system

The competitiveness of the railway system, particularly for freight, is today limited by differences between Member States in terms of stock, technology, signalling systems and safety regulations. The new Directive focuses on establishing common standards for signalling and control systems, telematic systems for freight services, the operation and management of rolling stock intended for international freight, and staff qualifications.

ACT

Directive 2004/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 amending Council Directive 96/48/EC on the interoperability of the trans-European high-speed rail system and Directive 2001/16/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the interoperability of the trans-European conventional rail system [See amending acts].

SUMMARY

DEFINITION OF INTEROPERABILITY

Interoperability is defined as the capability to operate on any stretch of the rail network without any difference. In other words, the focus is on making the different technical systems on the EU's railways work together.

Today, the competitiveness of the railways is curbed by the differences between Member States in terms of rolling stock, technology, signalling systems, safety regulations, braking systems, traction currents and speed limits. This state of affairs forces international trains crossing several States to stop at "frontiers".

Historically, these technical differences met the need to protect the Member States' own interests or those of their rail industry. At the same time, the road transport industry took advantage of its freedom from technical barriers to reinforce its position on the market.

CURRENT LEGISLATION AND THE NEW PROPOSAL

Three directives are currently in force on interoperability:

  • Directive 96/48/EC on the interoperability of the trans-European high-speed rail system;
  • Directive 2001/16/EC on the interoperability of the trans-European conventional rail system;
  • Directive 2004/50/EC amending the two previous directives.

The objective of these three directives is to narrow down the divide so that international trains can provide a better, completely safe service when they change national networks. The complete opening-up of the rail network to international freight services, scheduled for 2008, implies the need to put interoperability into action on the whole network.

The complete opening-up of the rail network to international freight services, scheduled for 2008, implies the need to put interoperability into action on the whole network.

The new Directive 2004/50/EC modernises the existing legislation on high-speed rail and extends the directive on conventional rail to the whole of the European rail system. Nevertheless, it will not imply total, forced technical harmonisation of the railway system. In practice, the interoperability process has several facets:

  • application of a homogeneous legal framework for the procedures for verification of application of the essential requirements on safety, health, technical compatibility, reliability, availability and environmental impact;
  • application of an identical procedure for placing in service trains intended to operate on the same infrastructure;
  • search for the level of technical compatibility that is necessary and adequate to allow operation of heterogeneous rolling stock;
  • search for a level of technical harmonisation contributing to gradual establishment of an internal market in equipment and services for the construction, renewal, upgrading and operation of the rail system.

Directive 96/48/EC: interoperability of the high-speed rail system

The first measure on interoperability was taken with the adoption of Directive 96/48/EC on the interoperability of the trans-European high-speed rail system.
In order to achieve the objectives set, technical specifications for interoperability (TSI) are drawn up by the European Association for Railway Interoperability (AEIF), which acts as the joint representative body bringing together representatives of the infrastructure managers, railway companies and industry.

8. The technical specifications for interoperability (TSI) are technical solutions designed to ensure compliance with the essential requirements for interoperability and to make the railway system operational.

Directive 2001/16/EC: interoperability of the conventional rail system

Directive 2001/16/EC, like the directive on the high-speed system, introduces Community procedures for preparation and adoption of TSI.

This directive requires adoption of a first group of priority TSI within three years, i.e. in 2004, in the following areas:

  • control/command and signalling systems;
  • telematics applications for freight services;
  • traffic operation and management, including staff qualifications for cross-border services;
  • freight wagons;
  • noise problems deriving from rolling stock and infrastructure.

Directive 2004/50/EC

The aim of this Directive is to establish the conditions to be met to achieve the interoperability within Community territory of the trans-European high-speed rail system as described in Annex I. These conditions concern the design, construction, placing in service, upgrading, renewal, operation and maintenance of the parts of this system placed in service when the Directive enters into force, as well as the qualifications and health and safety conditions of the staff who contribute to its operation.

At the same time, the Directive provides that trains should be equipped with a recording device. The data collected by this device and the processing of the information must be harmonised.

CONCLUSIONS

The biggest limitation of modes of transport such as rail is that they cannot provide door-to-door goods services. Time is wasted and competitiveness lost because the systems and networks are not harmonised.

In this context, the White Paper on European transport policy considers interoperability a key component in revitalising the railways and, consequently, shifting the balance between modes. The ultimate objective is to reduce congestion on the EU's roads and to build a legally and technically integrated European railway area.

This package of legislation will make it possible to form major long-distance European freight corridors. One example is the agreement between the French and German railways (SNCF and Deutsche Bahn) to pool a fleet of locomotives despite the technical differences along this cross-border route.
Today's technical and regulatory barriers work in favour of the existing companies and are still slowing down the entry of new operators and completion of a more competitive market.

Establishment of an open market free of technical barriers will guarantee higher quality and greater demand and allow the railways to go ahead with new investments.

REFERENCES

ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Directive 2004/50/EC [adoption: codecision COD/2002/0023]30.04.200430.04.2006OJ L 164 of 30.04.2004

Amending act(s)Entry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Directive 96/48/EC08.10.1996-OJ L 110 of 20.04.2001
Directive 2001/16/EC20.04.200120.04.2003OJ L 235 of 17.09.1996

RELATED ACTS

Directive 2001/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2001 on the allocation of railway infrastructure capacity and the levying of charges for the use of railway infrastructure and safety certification [Official Journal L 75 of 15.03.2001].

Directive 2001/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2001 amending Council Directive 95/18/EC on the licensing of railway undertakings [Official Journal L 75 of 15.03.2001].

Directive 98/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 July 1998 amending Directive 98/34/EC laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations [Official Journal L 217 of 05.08.1998].

Decision No 1692/96/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 1996 on Community guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network [Official Journal L 228 of 09.09.1996].

Proposal for a Council Directive on the agreement between the European Rail Community (ERC) and the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) on certain aspects of the working conditions of mobile workers assigned to interoperable cross-border services [COM(2005) 32 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
This proposal gives effect to certain aspects of the working conditions of mobile workers assigned to interoperable cross-border services concluded on 27 January 2004 between the European Rail Community (ERC) and the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF).

Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the European Commission and the European railway associations (ERC - UIC - UNIFE - EIM) establishing the basic principles for the definition of an EU deployment strategy for ERTMS [Not published in the Official Journal].
The European Commission and representatives of the European rail sector (manufacturers, infrastructure managers and companies) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the deployment of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) to create an interoperable European rail network. ERTMS is a radio system used to send information to trains from the ground. A computer on board uses the information to calculate the maximum permitted speed and automatically slows the train down if necessary. ERTMS deployment means there will be one system for European trains, instead of the twenty different ones used at present; it will reduce infrastructure and maintenance costs and make the European rail network safer.

To implement it, EUR 4 billion euros need to be invested over the next ten years for the main priority routes. At first, ERTMS will coexist with the national signalling systems in use now.

Last updated: 23.01.2007
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