A group of European climate NGOs has proposed five policies to encourage modal shift to rail in support of EU greenhouse gas reduction targets. Lena Donat, Policy Advisor Low-Carbon Mobility at development and environment organisation Germanwatch, explains what is needed

DB and SNCF high speed trains at Paris Est.

Proposals for ‘Trans Europ Express 2.0’ international high speed and overnight rail services and a joint booking platform for international passenger transport are to be discussed at the Innovative Rail Transport: Connecting, Sustainable & Digital ministerial summit which is to be held on September 21.

Lena Donat,

Lena Donat, Policy Advisor Low-Carbon Mobility at Germanwatch

This virtual conference, convened by Germany as the holder of the EU Council Presidency, comes at the right time: 24 EU member states agreed in June to strengthen international rail transport, the European Commission’s Green Deal will include railway initiatives, and 2021 is to be the European Year of Rail.

EU member states must take the right decisions now, to make the European Year of Rail a success and trigger a much needed rail renaissance. This offers a win-win-win situation for Europe:

  • economic recovery: additional investments in new or refurbished trains and stations can quickly create jobs, add value and help recovery from the Covid-19 crisis;
  • European cohesion: the rail system is one of the least ‘Europeanised’ sectors, with underdeveloped cross-border links. Strengthening the network, including in peripheral or poorer regions, can help revive the European spirit;
  • climate: the European Green Deal aims to reduce transport emissions by 90% by 2050. This requires shifting a considerable share of air and road traffic to rail, which is already the cleanest mode of passenger transport. The European Commission’s ambition to increase the EU’s 2030 climate target means that rail will need a significant push in the very near future.

Climate NGOs Germanwatch (Germany), Transport&Environment (Belgium), the Civil Affairs Institute (Poland), France Nature Environnement (France), ECODES (Spain) and Eco-union (Spain) believe EU member states should look for agreement on the following issues:

Make searching and booking easier

There is no publicly accessible platform that shows all existing train connections in Europe, and it is not possible to compare all prices and book international rail tickets at an online ‘one-stop shop’.

Eurostar ticket

There is no publicly accessible platform that shows all existing train connections in Europe.

The EU should create the legal foundations for an integrated EU-wide ticketing and payment system. Consumers should be able to book rail tickets for any connection in the EU via a single platform.

To this end, the EU needs to oblige transport operators to share static and dynamic data, including fare data.

Europeanise planning and management of international services

Existing cross-border infrastructure is not fully exploited, partly because of a lack of interest by rail operators and partly owing to the difficulty of co-ordinating international services.

Passenger services returned to the line between Dolní Poustevna in the Czech Republic and Sebnitz in Germany in 2014

Passenger services returned to the line between Dolní Poustevna in the Czech Republic and Sebnitz in Germany in 2014.

We believe the EU should create a European authority that forecasts demand, assesses the level of required services (destination, frequency, speed) and allocates capacity.

Such an authority could identify interesting routes that are not yet fully exploited and make this information available to train operators. It could also determine the sections of the desired network where services would be commercially viable, and those where public service obligation contracts would be needed. A Trans Europ Express 2.0 could become the flagship of this initiative.

New international services

More than 11 000 different national rules apply to rail transport in the EU, with many different signalling and speed control systems, track gauges and electrification systems being in use.

High speed trains in Brussels.

High speed trains in Brussels.

Harmonisation is progressing slowly, and this makes the business case for international connections often tricky. The lack of interoperable rolling stock which can run on different national rail systems is also a major obstacle.

To stimulate international connections, we believe the EU and member states should call tenders for cross-border PSO contracts for major routes, and establish a publicly managed pool of interoperable rolling stock, or provide financing or guarantees for purchasing or leasing interoperable rolling stock.

‘Renaissance of Rail – Connect Europe’ investment initiative

Rail Baltica.

Completion of the TEN-T core network needs €500bn by 2030.

The development of the Trans-European Network has been delayed by many years, and completion of the TEN-T core network alone still needs €500bn by 2030.

With the start of the European Year of Rail, member states and the Commission need to give a strong push for completing the TEN-T core network as well as improving other cross-border links. The EU recovery plan presents a key opportunity for this endeavour.

Get the price right to create a level playing field

Under the current tax system rail has a clear disadvantage compared to air and road, with aviation largely exempt from taxation.

Next year, the EU will review the Energy Taxation Directive and the EU Emissions Trading System. It is key that member states support the introduction of an EU-wide kerosene tax, and full auctioning of ETS allowances for aviation, in order to create a more level playing field between rail and air.

The EU should also look at alternative funding mechanisms to reduce track access charges for rail.