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Development of a single European railway area

This communication presents the Commission’s strategy for the development of a single European railway area. This strategy consists of promoting the development of an effective EU rail infrastructure, establishing an open rail market, removing administrative and technical barriers, and ensuring a level playing field with other transport modes.


Commission Communication of 17 September 2010 concerning the development of a Single European Railway Area [COM (2010) 474 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


European rail policy aims to facilitate the sustainable development of the European economy by providing high-quality, reliable, safe and efficient services. To ensure that the potential growth in this sector is fulfilled, the European Union (EU) needs to establish a single European railway area based on an integrated infrastructure network and interoperable equipment enabling efficient transport services throughout the EU and its neighbouring countries.

To increase competiveness of the European rail sector, the Commission’s strategy consists of promoting the development of an effective rail infrastructure, establishing an open rail market, removing administrative and technical barriers, and ensuring a level playing field with other transport modes.

Development of effective rail infrastructure

There is still inadequate investment in rail infrastructure and maintenance in many EU countries, and insufficient cross-border connections both within the EU and with its neighbouring countries. Due to the imbalance in investment in rail infrastructure as opposed to road infrastructure, the EU has decided to devote a significant part of its transport budget to the development of rail infrastructure. The EU aims to mobilise international, EU, national and private funds for both the maintenance of existing rail infrastructure and for the development of new rail transport projects. This mobilisation of funds will directly address the insufficient interoperability of national rail networks and the presence of bottlenecks at cross-border sections.

By revising existing EU rail market access legislation, the Commission aims to establish a financial environment in which competent public authorities are obliged to commit to medium and long-term investment strategies which would:

  • provide better predictability of business opportunities for the rail sector;
  • create strong incentives for rail undertakings to invest in new safe, interoperable and environment-friendly technologies through more effective charging systems.

This in turn should encourage further private and public investment in the rail sector at a national level.

Whilst the European high-speed rail network has significantly developed, the competitive rail freight market still needs to be improved. In a 2008 communication, the Commission detailed guidelines and practical proposals to monitor the quality of rail freight services and in December 2008 proposed a regulation creating a European rail network for competitive freight. If the development of the rail freight market continues to be inadequate, the Commission will propose further measures.

Establishment of an open rail market

Opening up national rail markets to cross-border competition is a major step towards establishing an integrated European railway area. Through the revision of EU rail market access legislation, the Commission aims to remove obstacles to fair competition. The protectionist behaviour of certain well-established operators and the collusive management of rail infrastructure still restrict competition between railway undertakings. New operators entering a market continue to face discrimination in gaining access to the rail infrastructure and services, which are often owned and operated by the well-established rail undertaking.

Until European railway undertakings can provide domestic passenger traffic services throughout the EU, market opening will remain incomplete. The Commission has therefore launched a study on available regulatory options for opening the domestic passenger market.

Removal of administrative and technical barriers

Significant barriers still exist to entry in the EU rail market, such as safety requirements and the lack of interoperability, predominantly stemming from the cost and duration of the procedures involved at national level, their disparity within the EU and the lack of transparency and predictability. The Commission has already started the procedure by harmonising safety certificates for railway undertakings and introducing common safety targets and methods. A lack of effective and harmonised decision-making mechanisms involving all parties in this area, including national safety authorities, has led to the Commission considering extending the European Railway Agency’s role in the certification and authorisation processes.

The Commission is progressively adopting harmonised technical specifications for interoperability (TSI) in order to remove existing administrative and technical barriers to entry in the EU rail market.

Last updated: 14.01.2011
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