AT ITS ANNUAL meeting in Paris on June 30, the Union of European Railway Supply Industry Associations (Unife) signed a formal accord with the International Union of Railways (UIC) and the Community of European Railways (CER) to establish a permanent secretariat for the European Association for Railway Interoperability (AEIF).

Since its formation three years ago, AEIF has been drawing up Technical Specifications for Interoperability for high speed trains, in response to EU Directive 96/48. The completed specifications were handed over to the European Commission at the same event, and should be approved by the Council of Ministers before the end of this year.

The EU is currently working on a parallel directive to promote the interoperability of conventional rail services. A preliminary draft has been agreed by the Member States, and the directive is expected to be ratified by the end of this year.

The accord signed by UIC Chairman Miguel Corsini, Unife President Rolf Eckrodt and CER Chairman Louis Gallois (photo) will set up AEIF as a permanent organisation tasked with drawing up TSIs for conventional rail services. AEIF will join the other three organisations in promoting joint research into interoperability issues. UIC, CER and Unife have agreed to develop a common research strategy, and to look at ways of harmonising the rules relating to competitive tendering within the European rail sector.