The European Union Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, addressed the rail industry, train operators and Member States at her speech at InnoTrans’s Opening Ceremony today.
She was happy to be at InnoTrans, she said, seeing new technologies that could revolutionise the way we move around. She also felt it was fitting for this railway show to take place in Germany, the geographical heart of the European network and the Member State with the longest national network.
Continuing on her praise for the sector, she said the rail sector could rightfully be proud of its contribution to Europe’s economic prosperity and proud of how it had extended a friendly hand to Ukraine following Russia’s aggression. European railways have carried not just civilians to safety, she said, but also Ukrainian grain and other goods for export, preventing a global food crisis and keeping Ukrainian farmers in business.
Furthermore, rail was helping cut overall transport emissions and she stressed it was the most sustainable form of motorised passenger and freight transport.
She was further positive about the growth of the rail sector, highlighting the forecast of UNIFE’s World Rail Market Study of 3% growth every year until 2027.
However, it was not all good news. The Commissioner said it had not been feasible for her to travel from Brussels to Berlin by rail herself.
“The future is promising. But we must look into where we are with rail today and be honest: to come here from Brussels to Berlin at the world's biggest rail fair, I couldn't take the train because a journey of seven to 11 hours to get here for 750 kilometres, would've been too long and I couldn't afford it in my very tight schedule. Once the go-to transport mode for longer journeys, rail has suffered from a lack of interest in the investment, and no amount of public subsidies or EU measures to support competition can compensate for the lack of a decent rail system. For some time now, some Member States have simply accepted lower performance and poor service. We've seen poor maintenance, insufficient investment in equipment and rolling stock for the implementation of the EU legislation. We have also seen no or slow progress on interoperability across the Single Market and overall paralysis on the uptake of innovation.”
Commissioner Vălean went on to discuss EU goals. She said the Commission’s proposal to revise the TEN-T guidelines would improve cross-border rail infrastructure and Europe’s main railway lines. She also said she wanted European capitals connected by high-speed rail so that a distance of 750km could be covered in three hours.
She highlighted that the EU’s 723.8 billion EUR resilience and recovery facility and the structural funds could be used to both modernise infrastructure and for rolling stock. Looking back at the First Railway Package, she said it had increased competition. Now the EU was revising its technical specifications for interoperability (TSIs) to remove technical barriers to competition and make it easier to introduce innovations faster.
Looking to the future, she spoke about an initiative for 2023 to improve cross-border capacity management. She said the EU would also put forward solutions for integrating multimodal and long-distance passenger tickets.
“Passengers want easier ticketing with sufficient safeguards before they consider taking the train more frequently.”
The rail sector depended on its staff, the Commissioner said. The Commission was therefore looking at ways to make it an attractive career for young people.
From a red tape perspective, she said rail staff needed to be able to cross borders more easily. An example she gave was looking into how to improve train driver licensing. At the moment, train drivers often have to switch at the border.
Commissioner Valean said the EU was working with industry through Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking to develop and rapidly deploy the technology needed for a modern railway network. This technology included integrated traffic management, high-capacity signalling, automatic train operation, and new, efficient solutions for low-traffic lines. Commenting on this, she said she was looking forward to seeing the results of Europe’s Rail’s first call for proposals, launched later today.
But she also called for ambition and partnership.
“As I look around, I see more than promising technologies and progress, but I know these improvements will not automatically find their way into trains for that to happen. We need partnership and we need ambition. So let me ask again, Member States, are you ready to adopt ambitious market and technical legislation and bring more competition to rail?
“Are you ready to focus transport investments on rail? And to the rail supply industry whose books are full these days, will you invest in more capacity and respond to the demand? Are you ready to offer standardised, upgradable and more affordable rail equipment? And finally, railway companies: Are you ready to improve your services through innovation?
“The Commission cannot create a second golden age for rail all by itself, but we are your partners. And I dare say that I personally am your friend.”
Her message to Member States and the industry was clear: the EU could lead them to water, but it couldn’t make them drink.
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