When Marcel Verslype takes office as Executive Director of the European Railway Agency on January 1, one of his earliest tasks will be to appoint the staff who will oversee the establishment of the entity which will in many ways determine the future of Europe's railways. Recruitment was in hand at the end of last year, with December 31 set as the deadline for applications.

ERA's role centres on interoperability and safety, working closely with national safety authorities and European organisations. The new body will have no decision-making powers, but it will make recommendations to the Commission. In addition, what Vinois terms 'social partners', passenger organisations and freight customers, will be consulted on the drafts before they are submitted to the Commission.

The 'Article 21 Committee' will also be involved in the process. Consisting of representatives from the member states, this committee must give favourable opinions on the TSIs and consider applications for derogations before any decision is adopted by the Commission.

The ERA's role in interoperability

  • Draft and revise Technical Specifications for Interoperability;
  • Co-ordinate Notified Bodies and supervise their work;
  • Monitor progress on interoperability, with and prepare a report for the Commission every two years;
  • Co-ordinate migration from conventional signalling and train control to ETCS/ERTMS;
  • Assist the Commission in evaluating projects financed by the EU;
  • Develop a European certification system for maintenance workshops;
  • Develop a European certification system for driver training centres;
  • Maintain a register of interoperability documents.

The ERA's role in safety

  • Develop common safety methods, safety targets and safety performance indicators on the basis of the Safety Directive;
  • Facilitate co-operation between national safety authorities;
  • Facilitate co-operation between accident investigation bodies;
  • Develop a harmonised format for Safety Certificates;
  • Assess new safety rules at the request of the Commission;
  • Monitor safety performance and report every two years;
  • Provide expert technical opinion on specific safety issues;
  • Develop and maintain a safety database.