According to the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), it was high time to update the existing TEN-T rules, taking into account the current policy context and the lessons learned from the 2013 Regulation. Focused on cohesion, the new proposal aims to improve passenger and freight connectivity across the entire Union, through an increasingly multimodal and resilient transport network.
The EU needs an updated trans-European transport network regulation to thoroughly contribute to sustainability and smart mobility, including rail. This is the main message from the opinion on the Revision of the TEN-T and Rail Freight Corridor Regulation drafted by Stefan Back and adopted at the March plenary session.
The new regulation will upgrade the existing regulatory framework that dates back to 2013 and will help achieve, on the infrastructure side, the goals set in the Green Deal, the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy and the Rail Action Plan.
Commenting on the adoption of the opinion, Mr Back said:
It was high time to propose a new regulation that takes into consideration the current policy context and capitalises on the lessons learned in the past few years. The plan to strengthen the rules on TEN-T implementation is very good news, because the roll-out of the current regulation has seen significant delays and has not been satisfactory.
Connecting all EU regions
The Committee values in particular the European Commission's intention to put cohesion at the heart of the proposal. This means ensuring accessibility and connectivity in all EU regions for both passenger and freight traffic when implementing the network. Moreover, it also brings about efficient coordination and interconnection between, on the one hand, long-distance, regional and local traffic and, on the other, transport in urban nodes.
From a technical point of view, the EESC is in favour of increasingly harmonising the infrastructure requirements of the "core" and "comprehensive" networks and fixing milestones: 2030 for the implementation of the core network, 2040 for the so-called extended core network and 2050 for the comprehensive network. With reference to the 2030 deadline, the EESC reiterates the feasibility doubts raised in its 2020 evaluation report, but considers that the deadline should be maintained to bring pressure to bear on the Member States.
Likewise, the Committee backs the focus on "European Transport Corridors" and the strong monitoring mechanism and enhanced role of the European Coordinators. The former establishes the main arteries of EU transport, which should be the focus of efforts to promote efficient transport and multimodality, while the latter will ensure their proper and timely implementation.
Strengthening the network's multimodality and resilience
The EESC also stresses the importance of the added value and synergy effects created by the improved coordination of the European Transport Corridors with the Rail Freight Corridors. The intermodal transport chain will become a reality only if rail freight links are efficient, i.e. matched by relevant infrastructure enabling sufficient speed helping towards punctuality. Insufficient rail punctuality has indeed been a major obstacle to making multimodality, including rail, an attractive option.
Multimodality implies making the best possible use of the advantages of all modes of transport to achieve the best possible results, while at the same time improving safety and reducing the environmental burden. For this reason, to fully contribute to the multimodal chain, the Committee also underlines that a seamless interface is key between land transport and other modes, including inland waterways, short sea shipping and aviation.
A network that generates long-lasting value for the people and businesses of the EU not only needs to be multimodal but must also be resilient, in particular to climate change, natural hazards and human-made disasters. The EESC points out that increasing the network's resilience is key and that resilience aspects should be taken into account as early as possible in a project's planning phase.
The proposal for an updated Regulation on Union guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network was presented by the European Commission in December 2021 as a key action of the European Green Deal and the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy.
Compared to the current regulation, the two-layer structure of the trans-European transport network (TEN‑T) is maintained: the "core" network includes the most important connections, linking the most important nodes, while the "comprehensive" network covers all European regions. The four specific objectives are further developed: efficiency, cohesion, sustainability and increased user benefits.
The document addresses the delays in project preparation and implementation of the current TEN-T Regulation by aligning national and TEN-T interests, objectives and responsibilities and strengthening monitoring.
More specifically, the proposal: 1) ensures the alignment of the Rail Freight Corridors with the European Transport Corridors and provides for coordination between the two instruments; 2) introduces TEN-T maintenance as a Member State obligation; and 3) empowers the Commission to withdraw EU co-financing in the event of significant and unjustified delays in implementing the networks, if the problem is not resolved within six months.