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Brussels, 23 January 2002

Revitalising the railways: Commission makes proposals to speed up establishment of an integrated railway area

The European Commission has proposed a new package of measures to revitalise the railways by rapidly building an integrated European railway area. The five measures unveiled today are based on the guidelines set out in the recent White Paper on transport(1) and aim at greater safety, interoperability and opening of the rail freight market. To give strong impetus to this process, the Commission has also proposed establishment of a European Railway Agency to steer the technical work on safety and interoperability. "The efforts to deploy efficient, competitive railway services throughout the Union will be to no avail as long as we still have fifteen systems, each compartmentalised and closed in a national network. Rail freight customers expect a high-quality, Europe-wide service. These latest proposals will therefore step up the pace in order to create a true internal market in rail freight services" announced Loyola de Palacio, Commission Vice-President responsible for transport and energy. However necessary these measures are to stem the loss of market share taken by rail, they will not be enough on their own. The Commission is therefore opening a debate on future action to improve quality of service on the railways.

The far-reaching measures in the "first railway package"(2) adopted by the Council and the European Parliament in December 2000 will not enter into force until 15 March 2003. They will open up the 50 000 kilometre plus trans-European rail freight network to international goods services in March 2003, with the entire network following in 2008. In the wake of the recent White Paper on transport(3), today the Commission proposed going further and faster to revive the railways.

The Commission has unveiled a new package of measures to speed up the process of creating an integrated railway area. The state of Europe's rail services is indeed giving cause for concern. Only 8% of goods are carried by rail today, compared with 21% in 1970. The average speed of international rail freight services has fallen below 18 km/h, slower than an icebreaker clearing the way for shipping in the Baltic Sea. Yet there is nothing inevitable about this since in the USA rail carries 40% of freight traffic. In response to this emergency, the Commission has now made specific proposals to speed up the process of revitalising the railways.

The package of measures announced by the Commission is designed to supplement the rules governing Europe's railways, without waiting any longer. Five new proposals will build on the foundation laid by the existing Community legislation. They are accompanied by thoughts on future action to make the railway market more dynamic and improve quality.

The five measures proposed today and announced earlier in the White Paper are:

  • Developing a common approach to rail safety. A proposal for a directive aims at guaranteeing rail safety by publishing rules which everyone can understand. It lays down a clear procedure for granting the safety certificates which every railway company must obtain before it can run trains on the European network. The objective is gradually to integrate the national safety systems.

  • Bolstering the fundamental principles of interoperability. After four years' work the experts have come up with solutions providing the technical interoperability needed in order to operate transfrontier services and cut rolling stock costs on the high-speed network. The Commission proposes drawing on this experience and changing working methods so that faster progress can be made on interoperability on the conventional network. Geographically, interoperability must be extended to the entire open network.

  • Setting up an effective steering body: the European Railway Agency. This Agency, with around 100 staff, will coordinate the groups of technical experts seeking common solutions on safety and interoperability. It will submit proposals for decisions on these subjects to the Commission, which will adopt them once they have been endorsed by the committees of representatives of the Member States. The Agency will also play a liaison role between the different competent national authorities. It could be in operation by 2004-2005.

  • Extending and speeding up opening of the rail freight market. After the first railway package(4) opened up the market for just international freight services, today the Commission proposed opening up the national freight markets as well. To this end, the Commission proposes opening up the entire network sooner, by 2006, allowing for the time which it will take to adopt and implement its proposal.

  • Joining the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF). This organisation drafts regulations on, for example, the carriage of dangerous goods by rail or technical standards applicable to railway material. It is therefore essential for the Community to accede to the OTIF Convention so that it can exercise its powers on rail transport within OTIF.

These measures are indispensable to create the climate needed for revitalising the railways. However, they will not be enough by themselves. Today the Commission wishes to open a debate with all concerned on a series of further steps. In particular, the Commission is thinking of the following measures already announced in the White Paper:

  • ensure high-quality rail services: open the rail network to new operators, set quality criteria and give users financial compensation in case of non-compliance with contractual service obligations;

  • remove barriers to entry to the rail freight market: deploy the ERTMS(5) control and command system, give the regulators stronger powers and simplify customs procedures;

  • improve the environmental performance of rail freight services;

  • gradually set up a dedicated rail freight network;

  • progressively open the market in passenger services by rail;

  • improve rail passengers' rights.

    (1) "European transport policy for 2010: time to decide", adopted on 12 September 2001. For further details see: HYPERLINK ""

    (2) Directives 2001/12/EC, 2001/13/EC and 2001/14/EC (OJ L 75 of 15 March 2001) will open up the international freight market between 2003 and 2008. They lay down rules on licensing, allocation of infrastructure capacity, and charging for use thereof.

    (3) See footnote 1.

    (4)Directive 91/440, as amended by Directive 2001/12/EC, which entered into force on 15 March 2001.

    (5) European Rail Traffic Management System harmonising railway signalling and telecommunications systems (see IP 01/614 of 26 April 2001). This system is the end-product of an integrated development and demonstration programme partly funded by the European Union, first as part of a research programme and then in the context of development of the trans-European networks.

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