Speech: European Railway Agency: on track into the future after 10 successful years
European Commission - SPEECH/14/506 26/06/2014
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Vice President of the European Commission
European Railway Agency: on track into the future after 10 successful years
European Railway Agency 10th anniversary
Valenciennes, France, 26 June 2014
Minister, ladies and gentlemen
I’m particularly pleased to return to Valenciennes for the 10th anniversary of the creation of the European Railway Agency.
It is around the same amount of time that I have spent in Brussels.
For all of us involved in the rail sector, a lot has changed over this period – and there’s more to come.
I cannot stress enough how important ERA is for the future of our railways.
It develops and promotes the common technical and safety standards needed to build an integrated and open European rail area.
It makes sure that these standards are economically viable, by working closely with the rail sector, national authorities, European institutions and other bodies.
That kind of cooperation is not only essential for the Agency’s work.
It also helps to develop a genuine and inclusive European railway culture from which the entire sector can only benefit in the future.
From its origins 10 years ago, ERA has fulfilled its core task of working to build a more efficient, interoperable, and safer European railway system: one that is competitive with other forms of transport.
It has been possible thanks to the people of this Agency, their dedication and expertise: vital qualities for preparing and revising technical specifications on interoperability, and on common safety methods, targets and indicators.
I would especially like to thank Marcel Verslype, whose second mandate as Executive Director ends in December. You have truly and successfully managed the Agency throughout its existence, right up to the new tasks that are coming soon. It will not be easy find a replacement!
However, the European Commission is now reaching the end of its internal procedures for this, and so ERA’s internal operations will not be disrupted.
At the Commission, we also rely heavily on ERA’s skills and qualities. Without them, we would not have been able to push ahead with important legislation, or advance in key technical improvements for the rail sector, such as developing and deploying the ERTMS project.
We all know how important this modern high-performance system is for European rail. ERTMS sets a single signalling standard across Europe. It enables efficient control of trains. It ensures a high level of safety and optimised use of capacity. And the Agency is its system authority.
Europe needs better technical compatibility throughout its rail network.
That doesn’t just mean signalling but also compatibility of rolling stock and infrastructure.
These are ERA’s core areas of responsibility, along with safety – where the Agency supports national authorities and investigation bodies in their work.
The evidence gathered and provided by ERA – its data, analysis and expert opinions - is the basis that underpins EU policy. Its value cannot be underestimated.
Latest ERA figures confirm that today, EU citizens enjoy one of the safest rail sectors in the world. This is the result of two decades of safety improvements. Safe railways are more efficient and offer a more attractive transport choice.
However, Europe’s national railways are still home to more than 2,000 significant accidents each year. Last year saw the EU’s worst railway accident for 15 years, outside Santiago de Compostela in Spain: 79 killed, and more than 100 injured. This is exactly the kind of accident that the ERTMS control system is designed to prevent. It wasn’t yet in place.
So there is no cause, or room, for complacency.
Keeping Europe’s railways safe is a daily challenge and therefore a priority in the European policy agenda. I am relying on ERA to continue playing a key role in this area for the years to come.
Ladies and gentlemen
Looking ahead, what can the European Railway Agency expect in the future?
Now that we have a political agreement between Member States on the technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package, the Agency will face new tasks, more responsibilities, and a much stronger presence.
But it will mean much more than that.
ERA is on the brink of a major change in status.
It will become a truly European rail authority with a direct impact on third parties. It will play a more significant part in supervising national rules and monitoring national safety authorities.
ERA’s new enhanced role as a "one-stop shop" issuing EU-wide vehicle authorisations and safety certificates is a clear departure from its current activities. ERA will also be essential for the success of the Fourth Railway Package and the reforms that our railways so urgently need.
As you know, the aim is for a 20% cut in the time for new rail companies to get to market and also in the cost and duration of rolling stock authorisations.
That should save companies some 500 million euros by 2025, using a common European approach to safety and interoperability rules that will increase companies’ economies of scale, speed up procedures and avoid discrimination.
It is just one indication of ERA’s importance in the planned improvements contained in the 4th Package, which are very much interlinked.
Today, ERA is a technical body providing data, analysis and expert opinions - mainly to the European Commission.
The output that it produces is the bedrock underpinning EU policy.
ERA will clearly need time to prepare for its new responsibilities, as will the Commission itself – which is why a transition period has been established.
The package goes hand in hand with our work to revitalise Europe’s railways by making more use of research and innovation. This will help rail to provide better and more efficient services so that customers have an attractive choice.
We are now in a position to move closer to those goals. Now that Member States have endorsed the public-private partnership Shift2Rail, we are looking for further commitments and operations to start so that the initiative can get underway.
Shift2Rail not only heralds a truly new era for rail research and innovation in Europe. It will also be an invaluable help to ERA to develop a more advanced rail system as technological advances are made that will be critical for the completion of the Single European Railway Area and for raising the competitiveness of the rail sector.
For ERA, there is certainly a lot of work to do, not least to make sure that appropriate financing and human resources are in place. The Agency will also have to look at improving its governance structure and internal operations.
Ladies and gentlemen
I would like to conclude by paying tribute to all the rail professionals who have devoted so much of their energy to developing this Agency, and who have worked here both in the past and the present. Today’s 10-year celebration is first and foremost a celebration of your achievements.
In Valenciennes today, the future certainly looks bright. But whatever it holds in store, we know that a strong European Railway Agency will be vital.
It is a cornerstone in our strategy to make the most of Europe’s railways, and move towards a smooth and efficient cross-border rail network that offers high-quality, safe and punctual services at competitive prices.
Rail could, and should, be achieving much more.
The Fourth Railway Package will allow us, finally, to give EU citizens and businesses the rail service they deserve.
The European Railway Agency lies at the heart of that vision.
Thank you for your attention.