The Single European Railway area

EESC opinion: The Single European Railway area

Key points

Regarding the questions raised by the Portuguese Presidency

  • The EESC considers that while a lot happened in respect of opening up markets and technical harmonisation in the course of thirty years of liberalisation, a lot remains to be done at political, regulatory and cultural level. Measures must include more attention to development, adaptation and efficient implementation of social legislation. They must seek to achieve the increased market share foreseen in the Commission Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy and improve environmental and social sustainability. Measures are needed to facilitate cross border operations by reducing the need for border checks and eliminating administrative problems and delays at border crossings.
  • Traffic planning priorities, capacity planning and information need to be improved to enable both greater flexibility and optimised capacity planning both with regard to rail infrastructure but also regarding, for instance, terminals to optimise multimodal flows. Investments are needed in infrastructure but also in digitalisation and updating of rolling stock, for instance digitalisation through deployment of ERTMS and automated couplings, including investment in just transition and skills development, to improve smooth traffic flows and optimise resource utilisation and ensure employment. To improve rail freight traffic, the EESC recommends additional measures, e.g. cooperation among companies and transport modes to better achieve environmental, social sustainability and efficiency, relaunch a European single wagon load system, link of strategic infrastructure (e.g. ports) to rail solutions, investments in industrial sidings, involvement of large logistics companies in a modal reorientation of their flows, ensuring environmentally and socially exemplary performance of all transport modes.
  • The EESC recommends with regards to public debt an exception from the Maastricht criteria for public investments in transport infrastructure also beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Efforts to encourage investments in the rail sector should be enhanced, to promote socially and environmentally sustainable transport.
  • Infrastructure development including timely implementation of the TEN-T Core Network Corridors and the freight network corridors are key and warrant high priority regarding financing and planning.
  • The EESC underlines, that skilled and motivated workers and good working conditions are of vital importance for the successful evolution of rail transport. It is therefore important that adequate social legislation is in place, including with respect to posting of railway staff. The EESC underlines the importance in this respect of a well-functioning social dialogue.
  • The experiences from the COVID-19 crisis must be used to develop a more resilient and effective rail system. Resilience planning needs to be adopted in close consultation with the social partners.
  • The status of the infrastructure manager initially provided for has as such undoubtedly contributed to ensuring that infrastructure capacity has been allotted in an independent, fair and non-discriminatory manner and has improved the confidence of operators in fair treatment. However, subsequent changes to the regulatory framework in Directive 2012/34/EC provide for a wider choice as to the organisational model, focusing on the independence of the infrastructure manager in the so-called essential functions (slot allocation, charging and collection of charges) and the transparency granted by separated accounts. The current provisions are perfectly adequate to ensure the independence and transparency required for the good functioning of the internal market.
  • The EESC underlines, that integrated railway systems can guarantee fair allocation as well as non-integrated systems. The EESC points to the fact that many of the big and the successful railway countries in Europe decided in favour of integrated railway companies to ensure synergies, better coordination, flexibility and an internal labour market for safeguarding employment.
  • The coordination mechanism between infrastructure managers and operators as well as the European Network of Infrastructure Managers are essential elements to help towards the achievement of optimised efficiency.