MORE THAN a quarter of ERA's permanent staff work in the Interoperability Unit, dealing with the TSIs and other technical aspects, as laid down in articles 12 to 19 of the ERA's founding regulation (Table I).

Interoperability Adviser Kai Brandstack says ERA is co-operating closely with the various European and international standards-setting bodies, such as CEN and Cenelec. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in May 2007 'giving us access to their work - they have been very receptive to establishing common standards'. A Joint Programme Committee has been formed specifically for the rail sector, and a high degree of understanding has already developed.

Brandstack says this collaborative approach has a number of benefits. As the TSIs are defined in European legislation, they have legal weight and 'very strict change procedures'. It is actually easier to change the European Standards, and ERA is working with the various bodies to get more railway-specific standards adopted. On the downside, he admits that 'if the standards are included in the TSIs, they become mandatory, but otherwise their adoption is optional.'

According to Brandstack, there are five main areas of work within the Article 12 group, where development and revision of the various TSIs is progressing well. The final draft of the TSI for Conventional Railways is due to be completed within 30 months of the mandate being issued in February 2006. Work is also underway to address outstanding issues in the Wagons TSI. Following detailed discussions, a single TSI is being drafted for Traction & Passenger Rolling Stock, rather than the two originally envisaged, plus two sub-packages to be completed by the end of this year.

Final drafts for the Infrastructure and Energy TSIs were submitted for economic evaluation in December, and the formal consultation process is expected to begin in April. Work began in February 2007 on a TSI covering Telematic Applications for Passengers - such as ticketing and real-time information systems. Brandstack says an intermediate report was published in December, and the first draft of the TSI will be ready by the end of 2008.

An issue of great importance in the Baltic States, as well as other member states in eastern Europe, is the need for some form of interface between the interoperability rules applying to Europe's 1 435 mm gauge networks and the OSJD technical standards used on the 1 520 mm gauge routes in the former Soviet sphere of influence. 'We needed to identify differences and find common ground', says Brandstack. ERA's 1520 working party has three ad-hoc groups covering infrastructure, rolling stock and operations; an interim report was completed in October 2007 and the final report is due to go to the Commission by mid-2008.

Although DG TREN has not formally requested any monitoring work under Article 13, Brandstack says co-operation with the Notified Bodies in different member states 'is most important', as it provides ERA with 'feedback on the field application of the TSIs'. This co-operation means that ERA project officers take part in the NB-Rail meetings (NB-Rail is the common representative body of NoBos). Likewise, NB-Rail representatives will take part in the ERA 'conformity support group'. At present the NoBos are primarily concentrating on the High Speed TSI, but Brandstack recognises that this area of work 'will be a huge task in the future' as the other TSIs are finalised and adopted.

Under Article 14, the Interoperability Unit has been asked to prepare a report every two years on how interoperability is working in practice, and the first of these is due to be issued in 2009.

Given the slow progress with the TEN-T projects, Brandstack says little work has yet been done on Article 15, other than an initial examination of interoperability issues on the TEN routes for which EU funding has been allocated. 'The procedures have been established, but we have not issued any reports yet', he confirms.

The certification of maintenance workshops under Article 16 has made more progress, with completion expected at the end of 2008. The idea is that certificates will be valid 'right across the EU, so operators can get maintenance work done in any certified workshop'. Having put the structure in place, a draft implementation plan and recommendations are due to be ready by mid-2008.

The adoption of the Third Railway Package on October 23 - and particularly Directive 2007/59/EC on driver licensing - has brought the issue of Vocational Competencies to the fore. A first meeting of the Article 17 team was held on December 5 to establish common criteria for train crew and cross-border operations, and once again Brandstack expects to see an intermediate report by the middle of this year.

The development of a national vehicle register and common specifications for the registration of rolling stock were mandated by Dir 2004/50/EC, and the Article 18 team submitted its recommendations to the European Commission in the spring of 2007; a decision was taken last November. According to Brandstack, the next step will be 'to launch an IT project covering ownership and technical information'. This may be able to build on the data management structures being put in place under Article 19. ERA has been tasked with maintaining a register of the many documents covering interoperability - such as directives and declarations, authorisations, any national technical rules, and the national vehicle and rolling stock registration databases.

Table I. Interoperability activities, as defined in Regulation 881/2004

Article

12 Technical support

13 Monitoring the work of Notified Bodies

14 Monitoring interoperability

15 Promoting interoperability on TEN routes

16 Certification of maintenance workshops

17 Vocational competencies

18 Registration of rolling stock

19 Register of documents on interoperability

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