EUROPE: Meeting virtually on June 3, EU transport ministers gave unequivocal backing to rail’s role at the heart of sustainable mobility by adopting two sets of EU Council conclusions.

The Transport Council recognised the central role which rail must be allowed to play ‘to increase the overall sustainability of the EU economy and to achieve EU climate objectives’.

The agreed texts cover a number of touchstone topics affecting the rail industry in Europe. These include the impact of Covid-19 on European mobility; the need to support railway research and innovation; the importance of the TEN-T and rail freight corridors; the revitalisation of overnight night services; the need to boost long-distance and cross-border passenger trains; the roll-out of ERTMS; and the efforts being made to further digitalise passenger and freight operations.


On modal shift, the Council’s conclusions stressed that ‘rail transport is responsible for just 0∙4% of transport-caused CO2 emissions, despite having a share of 8% of passenger transport and 19% of freight transport across Europe. For that reason, a modal shift from carbon-intensive modes to rail is likely the most effective way to decarbonise transport in large parts of the EU’s territory’.

However, the ministers noted that despite efforts to liberalise the rail market and harmonise technical standards over recent years, ‘a marked shift to rail has not yet been achieved, despite the progress made in individual market segments’.

Achieving the desired modal shift would require the ‘attractiveness and competitiveness of rail to be strengthened through the improvement of rail services adjusted to customer demands and the effective optimisation of multi-modal solutions between rail and other transport modes’, it added. ‘Overall, a true modal shift will require growth in rail traffic volumes that outpaces economic growth.’

International Rail Passengers Platform

The ministers were presented with an update on progress to develop an International Rail Passengers Platform, a collaborative initiative being undertaken by 27 national governments, rail sector organisations and the European Commission, at the instigation of a group led by the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management.

Ministers were told that work on a number of key bottlenecks needed to be accelerated, especially for international rail bookings where data sharing and collaboration between travel retailers is expected to yield tangible improvements to international ticketing and reservation processes within two years.

The European Commission has agreed to publish an Action Plan for Rail by the end of this year, setting out how 15 pilot projects for expanded cross-border passenger services will be delivered by 2030.

Commenting on the outcome of the Council meeting, CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola said that ‘this is likely the most appropriate way to celebrate the first semester of the European Year of Rail and I must congratulate the Portuguese Presidency and the whole Council for agreeing unanimously on a text that is ambitious and clear in its objectives.

‘The Council Conclusions are a clear call for being bold about modal shift and the policies that should make it a reality. We expect this to represent a true political agenda that the Council, together with the other EU institutions, will keep as a reference in the near and distant future — starting with the next revision of the TEN-T Regulation.’