DRAFT legislation to recast the Technical Specifications for Interoperability in a revised directive has been agreed by the European Parliament. In a first reading on December 11, MEPs voted by a large majority to accept the proposals, the key objective of which is to streamline acceptance procedures for traction and rolling stock across member states.

In line with the report on cross-acceptance prepared for the European Railway Agency last year (RG 9.07 p521), the revisions embrace changes to the regulation and management of safety in an attempt to eliminate inconsistencies between the Interoperability and Railway Safety directives. The recast TSI will also merge the previous separate TSIs for high speed and conventional lines. Revision of the Railway Safety Directive and changes to the regulation of the European Railway Agency were both accepted by MEPs on November 29, and the three documents now form the so-called 'cross-acceptance package'.

Key elements in the package were agreed earlier in November when the European Parliament's Transport Committee and the Council of Ministers accepted the principle of mutual recognition of rolling stock. It was also agreed that the legislation should set time limits and criteria for granting acceptance, and that any refusal to accept a vehicle should be supported by a national safety authority demonstrating a substantial safety risk.

In marked contrast to the previous arrangements, there will be an automatic acceptance procedure. We understand this to mean that if a vehicle conforming to the TSI is accepted for service in one member state, other member states must also accept it unless it is essential to verify compatibility because of specific national requirements. If a national safety authority fails to take a decision within a specified time limit - which we understand may be four months - the vehicle will be automatically accepted three months after the time limit has elapsed.

At this stage there remain concerns over how this legislation will be implemented in practice. EIM has pointed out, for example, that the infrastructure manager will need to be able to assess the characteristics of a vehicle and its impact on the network before it is accepted. Nonetheless, placing the onus for acceptance on national safety authorities working to a deadline should accelerate a process which the European Commission considers to have been misused in the past as a means of protecting domestic markets.

Related to the interoperability rules are proposals for national and European vehicle registers, and ERA has been asked to prepare a reference document in which rolling stock will be allocated to three categories. Another issue concerns arrangements for maintaining rolling stock in safe condition. The proposals envisage that when a vehicle is accepted, a 'keeper' is designated as responsible for its maintenance. MEPs agreed this proposal but insisted that responsibility for operational safety should lie with a railway undertaking. They also favoured a mandatory maintenance certification system for keepers, and this is expected to be ready by January 2010.

Changes proposed to the role of ERA are particularly significant. MEPs voted that 'the Agency shall be entrusted with the task of granting the authorisations' for rolling stock conforming to TSIs, taking over this role from member states and national railway agencies.