Key measures for future opportunity to travel around Europe by rail
In order to keep the operations going after the coronavirus pandemic, the rail sector in Europe needs support from the authorities. Therefore, several railway associations have called the European Commission and the Member States to intensify the work in this regard. They emphasised two key measures: state financial aid and law improvements.
At the moment, the European rail sector is playing an essential role in tackling the coronavirus pandemic. The rail freight companies are continuing to deliver goods to the customers including those from the food and health industries as fast as it is possible in the current conditions. However, rail passenger operators have faced a sharp decrease in traffic. “They nevertheless manage to enable medical staff and essential workforce to commute to work. The health and safety of travelling public and staff are the highest priority. Passenger operators are in close contact with health & government authorities, often going above and beyond the recommended measures,” the railway associations state in a joint letter.
The mentioned document was composed by five dedicated organisations: the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA), the International Union of Wagon Keepers (UIP), the International Union for Road-Rail Combined Transport (UIRR), the Alliance of Passenger Rail New Entrants (AllRail). All of them join forces of the vast majority of the European railway undertakings.
“All in all, railways strive to be the backbone of mobility and logistics in Europe also in this time of crisis. With a long-term perspective, the rail sector will be essential to boost and mobilise investment and support the European economic recovery with concrete actions. Future generation and people from all backgrounds shall not miss the opportunity to travel around Europe by rail. After the crisis, rail will continue to support European and national cohesion as well as essential transport to people and freight, investments and economic growth,” the joint letter reads.
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The railway undertakings especially the passenger companies have also suffered from the traffic restrictions imposed by the European countries during the recent weeks. Some operators even stopped their operations. The Commission is working to smooth the economic impact on the rail sector. “The State aid Temporary Framework recently adopted by the European Commission is most welcome, and Member States’ authorities should make the widest possible use of it,” the railway institutions stress. Meanwhile, the final decision in this regard should be adopted by the Member States.
“We hope that … all companies in the railway sector will receive fair and adequate support vis-à-vis other transport modes,” the document reads. The state aid should be delivered not only to the railway operators but to the service providers associated within the transport sector including ticket vendors, catering companies, station managers and freight terminals. This list is, of course, not full without infrastructure managers. “Increased support should be granted to infrastructure managers to ensure the network remains operational over these critical times. This can be temporarily coupled with an ad hoc reduction of Track Access Charges and Energy Charges for rail operators,” the joint letter proposes.
Special attention is given to the railway operators that provide their services under public service obligation (PSO) contracts. These companies are also reducing their timetables due to the policy recommendations and restrictions. “Member States should take measures aimed at covering the losses of public service operators and at safeguarding the economic equilibrium of the contracts. We would welcome if the Commission could explicitly confirm that Member States may allocate necessary additional resources in the context of the PSO contracts without asking for the prior authorisation of the Commission,” the railway associations propose.
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At the same time, the railway organisations have stressed the importance of rail staff in tackling the pandemic. “Train drivers and other operational staff need to be regarded as strategic workforce, and therefore be allowed to cross borders without unnecessary restrictions in order to pick up and deliver trains smoothly,” the joint letter reads. Moreover, the dedicated institutions also focus on the level-playing field for both road and rail transport in such difficult times. “In order to support rail companies and staff in the daily operation, the measures in place for the road shall be extended as much as possible to the rail sector in particular for the simplification of the accompanying documentation of goods, health screening and the prorogation for the validity of complementary certificates and driver’s licenses, suspension of the traffic ban for wagons with cast iron brakes as it would contribute to increase the fluidity of traffic,” they note.
In addition, many European regulations should be changed in order to simplify and improve the operations of the rail sector. This measure is dealt with two areas: funding of the railway projects and the law basement. As for the former point, the associations offer to change the EU Cohesion Policy. “EU funded investments should be distributed onto two programming periods, modified or allowed to be prolonged for one year at least. Nonetheless, none of these possibilities is today compatible with the existing EU legislation,” the document reads.
As for the latter point (the law basement), the railway institutions call the EU Commission and the Member States for adjusting the current laws in order to simplify the work of the undertakings. Among other things, they promote to make the procurements more flexible and to ease procedures for obtaining the financial instruments. “European passenger and freight operators, combined transport and wagon load operators, wagon keepers, workshops, ticket vendors and mobile services remain at the disposal of all public authorities to support all measures that are foreseen to contain the pandemic and to keep our Union running,” the associations sum up in their joint letter.