Connecting Europe Express Reaches End of 20,000 Kilometre Journey

The Connecting Europe Express has reached its final destination of Paris after 36 days travelling across Europe.

Railway-News magazine issue 4 2021 cover: Connecting Europe Express
The Connecting Europe Express in Portugal

The train (actually three different trains) made more 120 stops, crossed 26 countries and 33 borders, travelling on three different gauges.

The Connecting Europe Express was created to celebrate the European Year of Rail 2021 and raise awareness of the benefits of rail and the challenges that must still be overcome.

Adina Vălean, European Commissioner for Transport, said:

“The Connecting Europe Express has been a rolling laboratory, revealing in real-time the many achievements of our Single European Rail Area and TEN-T network to allow for seamless travel across our European 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.”

A closing event in Paris presented the initial conclusions drawn from the unique train journey.

Firstly, 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 core Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) by 2030 and the comprehensive network by 2050, and the European Commission will propose changes to the TEN-T regulation later this year.

On 16 September, a seven billion euro (8.09bn USD) 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 project  such as the Lyon-Turin lines, the Brenner Base Tunnel and Rail Baltica.

Secondly, 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.

Thirdly, 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.

In addition, 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 and finally, 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. A

Against this backdrop, the European Commission will present an action plan to boost long-distance cross-border passenger rail services in December.

Speaking at the event, Andreas Matthä, Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) Chair 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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