CEREMONIES were held in Valenciennes on June 16 to inaugurate the European Railway Agency, which was created last year to advise the European Commission as part of the Second Railway Package (RG 8.04 p449).

ERA Executive Director Marcel Verslype said the event marked the end of the set-up phase and 'from now on the actual work will start'. His initial team includes around 25 experts on railway safety and interoperability issues, and the first working party sessions on both topics are scheduled for September. Verslype says ERA will be fully operational by mid-2006.

French Transport Minister Dominique Perben and EC Vice-President & Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot placed a foundation stone for the ERA headquarters, which is expected to be ready in about two years. Also present were the Vice-President of the European Parliament's Transport & Tourism Committee Gilles Savary and ERA President Reino Lampinen.

Welcoming the guests to Valenciennes, Mayor Dominique Riquet emphasised that the creation of ERA offered a valuable boost to the I-Trans campaign to make the Nord-Pas de Calais region a centre of excellence for railway technology.