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Railways are the backbone of sustainable mobility and key to delivering EU climate objectives

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The European Commission held a conference on 30 September entitled “Building up a network of European long-distance rail services”, on the occasion of the arrival of the Connecting Europe Express in Berlin. Speaking at the event, Dr Alberto Mazzola, Executive Director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), will stress that the long-term vision of the railway sector is the creation of a seamless European high-speed network, linking European capitals and major cities, supporting the development of an international passenger service market in order to deliver the EU’s climate objectives. 

Railways are enablers for sustainable multimodal mobility services at local and regional level and want to play a bigger role in door-to-door mobility chains. To achieve this ambitious goal, passenger experience needs to be central to business plans and regulatory demands alike. The journey experience is dependent on seamless ticketing and digitalisation, but also includes the affordability of ticket prices, the speed and duration of rail passenger travel, the reliability of the services as well as on-board facilities. The aim of any sustainable strategy should be to shift short and medium distance travel in Europe from road and air to rail to cut CO2 emissions. Therefore, it is also essential to fully internalise environmental externalities with a smarter approach on pricing that is based on the ‘user-pays’ and the ‘polluter-pays’ principles. More commercially viable international train services could then be developed.  

High-speed and night trains are a sustainable alternative to cheap flights with a range of 1000 km if appropriate political support is provided, and the sector would like to double its share of Europe’s passenger traffic to 15% by 2030. In order to achieve this, several legal and technical obstacles need to be addressed in relation to setting up new cross-border international train services, including night trains. Harmonised technical and regulatory framework conditions in Europe still need to be fully implemented and obstacles to full interoperability pose major technical, operational and economic challenges for cross-border passenger transport. Fast harmonisation of technical and operational rules, norms, and requirements is needed. 

The European Rail Sector stakeholders* support the work of the International Rail Passenger Platform and the willingness of its members to improve international rail passenger services. The rail sector realises that the status quo is not an option: the international transport systems of Europe need to be adapted to face the challenges of the ongoing and accelerating climate crisis.

CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola looks forward to an interesting debate on these topics, noting: “An interconnected and competitive network of rail passenger services will underpin the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of our continent."

The Commission Conference ‘Building up a network of European long-distance rail services’ is being live streamed from the Connecting Europe Express website here.

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Connecting Europe Express reaches final destination after 20,000km journey

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On 7 October, the Connecting Europe Express reached its final destination of Paris after 36 days travelling across Europe - West to East, North to South, and even visiting neighbours outside the EU.  This train was specially put together for the occasion of the European Year of Rail 2021, aiming to raise awareness of the benefits of rail and the challenges which still need to be overcome. The train made over 120 stops, crossed 26 countries and 33 borders, travelling on three different gauges along the way.

Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said: “The Connecting Europe Express has been a rolling laboratory, revealing in real-time the many achievements of our Single European Rail Area and our TEN-T network to allow for seamless travel across our Union. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who helped us turn the Connecting Europe Express from an idea into reality, a packed and exciting itinerary, memorable meetings – of minds and persons – and a true flag-bearer for European rail.”

Andreas Matthä, Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) chairman and CEO of Austrian Federal Railways, said: “The Connecting Europe Express has achieved two targets today. Not only has it reached its final destination in Paris but, more importantly, it has highlighted the challenges in cross-border train services. If another important target, the Green Deal, is to be a success, it must become as easy to drive a train through Europe as it is to drive a truck. For this to be achieved, rail will need more capacity and new investments in infrastructure. Framework conditions must be adapted to create a level playing field between all modes of transport. I congratulate and thank everyone involved in this highly successful project.”

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The final event in Paris was an opportunity to present the initial conclusions drawn during the unique train journey.

  • First, for rail to unleash its potential, a true cross-border, modern, high-quality rail infrastructure is a basic requirement. There is a clear need for joint action to complete the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T): the core network by 2030, and the comprehensive network by 2050. The Commission will propose changes to the TEN-T Regulation later this year. On 16 September, a €7 billion call for proposals under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) was launched, for projects targeting new, upgraded and improved European transport infrastructure. The EU's Recovery and Resilience Facility can support the modernisation and interoperability of rail infrastructure, plus key infrastructure projects, such as the Lyon-Turin lines, the Brenner Base tunnel and Rail Baltica.
  • Second, existing infrastructure must be better managed and its capacity improved. Digitalisation can help. For example, deploying the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) will increase capacity, safety, reliability and punctuality. Research and innovation will also unlock more capacity, and the new ‘Europe's Rail' partnership will build on the successful work of Shift2Rail.
  • Third, greater pan-European coordination and common requirements are needed, and the Single European Rail Area must be enhanced. For example, Europe's train drivers should be able to accompany their trains across borders, just as pilots and truck lorry drivers can. And the 4th railway package must be transposed quickly to eliminate other remaining obstacles created by national rules and establish an open and competitive European market for rail – technically, operationally and commercially.
  • Fourth, rail needs to become more attractive to encourage more people and companies to choose rail. Improving ticketing and options for planning travel across transport modes would help, as would lowering the costs of rail travel in comparison to the alternatives. Against this backdrop, the Commission will present an Action Plan to boost long-distance cross-border passenger rail services in December.

Background

The Connecting Europe Express has been a collective European achievement. It has brought together national, regional and local authorities, society at large and the rail sector, from new entrants and incumbent operators to infrastructure managers and the supply industry. More than 40 partners from the sector joined forces to combine an Austrian sleeper coach with an Italian dining coach, a Swiss panoramic coach, a German seating coach, a French conference coach and a Hungarian exhibition coach; completing the standard gauge train with an Iberian and Baltic train. The railway sector association CER coordinated the technical and operational running of the trains with the 40 plus railway actors involved. 

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Throughout its journey, the train hosted several conferences and a mobile exhibition, and welcomed school classes, policymakers, stakeholders and other citizens on board. Additional conferences and welcome events were organized along the way and the train stops coincided with key events such as the informal meeting of transport and energy ministers in Brdo, Slovenia, as well as the first-ever Western Balkans Rail Summit in Belgrade. In Halle (Saale), Germany, passengers witnessed the beginning of the era of digital automatic coupling for freight wagons as well as intermodal operations at the Bettembourg terminal in Luxembourg.

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EU railways

European Year of Rail: Connecting Europe Express now leaving the station

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The ‘Connecting Europe Express', a special train put together as part of the European Year of Rail 2021, will pull out of Lisbon train station today (2 September). It will stop in more than 100 towns and cities during its five-week journey, before arriving in Paris on 7 October. Departing from Lisbon and ending its trip in Paris, the train will make a notable stop in Ljubljana, connecting the Portuguese, Slovenian and French Presidencies of the Council of the EU.

Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said: “Rail has shaped our rich, common history. But, rail is also Europe's future, our route to mitigating climate change and powering economic recovery from the pandemic, as we build a carbon-neutral transport sector. Over the coming weeks, the Connecting Europe Express will become a rolling conference, laboratory and forum for public debate on how to make rail the transport mode of choice for passengers and businesses alike. Please give us a warm welcome when we stop at a railway station near you.”

Along the route, various events are planned to welcome the train at railway stations across Europe. Rail enthusiasts can also follow debates happening on board as well as conferences on EU infrastructure policy and the role of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), that will be livestreamed via the event website from Lisbon, Bucharest, Berlin and Bettembourg. The Connecting Europe Express is the result of unique cooperation between the European Commission and the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), European rail operators, infrastructure managers and numerous other partners at EU and local level. A press release is available online.

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EU railways

German train driver strike strands passengers and freight

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General view of the main station during a railway drivers' strike of the German Train Drivers' Union (GDL) in Hamburg, Germany August 11, 2021. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
Claus Weselsky, chairman of the train drivers' union GDL, attends an interview with Reuters, in Berlin, Germany, August 11, 2021. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

A strike by train drivers over pay severely disrupted services across Germany on Wednesday (11 August), adding to pressure on European supply chains and frustrating passengers at a time of high demand during the summer holiday season, write Christian Ruettger, Markus Wacket, Michael Nienaber, Reuters TV and Riham Alkousaa, Reuters.

With around 190 freight trains standing idle, Deutsche Bahn (DBN.UL) said in a statement the strike could have a major impact on industrial supply chains in Germany and across Europe, which have already suffered bottlenecks because of COVID-19.

Passenger demand is also high as many people are on the move during summer holidays following an easing of coronavirus restrictions.

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Deutsche Bahn spokesperson Achim Stauss said the company was trying to keep one in four long-distance trains running and to have at least a trip every two hours between large cities.

"We are doing our best to get people to their destination today," Stauss said, urging travellers to postpone unnecessary trips.

The strike is due to run until the early hours of Friday (13 August).

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A survey by Forsa for television broadcasters RTL and n-tv showed that 50% of respondents were opposed to the strike, while 42% viewed it as reasonable.

Stranded travellers stood waiting for their delayed trains at stations across Germany.

"The strike is understandable. I support it, but the problem is that there is hardly any information on the internet about it," said David Jungck, a traveller stranded at Berlin's main railway station.

Germany's VDA car industry association said the strike could add to problems in the logistics industry as it struggles to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

"If the strikes last longer, considerable costs can arise for companies because interrupted supply chains quickly lead to production stoppages," VDA president Hildegard Mueller told Reuters.

The GDL union, which represents some train drivers, will decide next week whether to continue the strike, its chief Claus Weselsky told broadcaster ZDF on Wednesday.

Weselsky said the strike, which started at 2h local time (0000 GMT) for passenger services on Wednesday, had been successful so far, bringing around 700 trains to a standstill.

"Our colleagues went on strike in a very disciplined manner," Weselsky told Reuters, adding the union would only return to the negotiating table if Deutsche Bahn made an improved pay offer.

GDL is demanding wage increases of around 3.2% and a one-time coronavirus allowance of €600 ($700). Deutsche Bahn had offered wage increases in two steps for the next two years, but the union wants the raise to take effect earlier.

After reporting a loss of €5.7 billion in 2020, the state-owned railway said business had recovered since April, as COVID-19 travel restrictions eased and cargo traffic improved.

The firm said it expected to edge back to profit in 2022, but floods that hit western Germany last month had caused around €1.3bn ($1.53bn) in damage.

The last railway strike was called by the EVG workers union in December 2018 and lasted only four hours.

($1 = €0.8540)

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