European Commission – Speech

European Rail Freight Days Conference

Brussels, 27 November 2014

Violeta Bulc, EU Commissioner for Transport

Brussels, Belgium


Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to participate in the European Rail Freight Days so early in my mandate. As you all know, efficient and competitive logistics is essential for both, the European and the world economy. Within Europe, some 50% of rail freight crosses borders, which means the freight business has a very strong EU dimension. It also means we need to pay special attention to ensure that the “rules of the game” for market operators are common at European level. This is essential if we are to empower businesses to deliver seamless transport with cost-effective services, running on time. At the same time it is essential also for the true European Single Market to become a reality.

Rail freight will need to play a larger part in an integrated European transport system, if we are going to reach our ambitious target of reducing CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050. We need to see larger volumes of freight being shipped by the most resource-efficient modes, in particular by rail.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The business of rail freight is facing a number of key challenges:

There is a quality challenge: we must improve reliability and punctuality, for example through more interoperability;There is a cost challenge: which means improving cost competitiveness through higher productivity and more efficient train operations; better cross-border connections would certainly help with this, expanding the “corridor” logic beyond the EU borders;There is a service challenge: new value-added services, allowing rail to recover market segments and enter into new markets, decreasing the paper work and the communication delays by effective similes services management;Finally, a political challenge: to secure public and political acceptance for rail freight, by promoting co-modality and ensuring a level playing field between different means of transport.

All in all, the absence of a Single European Rail Area leads to lost market opportunities for rail. The fact that rail accounts for only 10% of freight transport in Europe is clearly unacceptable, especially in view of the high expectations for rail to help solve our social, economic and environmental challenges. It also hearts to hear that European railway systems are becoming the most absolute and least responsive of all in the world. We have to keep up with the global development.

Let’s have a closer look at the problems.

Rail operators have to deal with a whole range of technical and regulatory barriers within Europe. Infrastructure and traffic management are fragmented along national borders. Certification of locomotives and wagons for international traffic is subject to long, expensive procedures. When a train runs just a few kilometres across the border of a neighbouring country to reach a border station, the operator needs additional safety certificates and must meet certain language requirements. In some places there is not sufficient capacity, resulting in a shortage of high-quality train paths for international routes. We can also see that there is insufficient cross-border cooperation in traffic management, leading to delays and low reliability of international freight services. Finally, there are still missing links and bottlenecks in the network, making it less efficient than it could be.

But I am sure you are familiar with these, and other challenges facing rail freight in Europe. And I sincerely hope that your discussions today and tomorrow will result in some concrete ideas or concrete proposals — possibly some projects that might win financial support in a near future, using also the new 300billion European Financial Strategic Fund that will be available next year.

Take a concrete example: I very much welcome that a study has been completed on the feasibility of longer (740 metre) trains on the Rhine-Alpine Corridor. As a result of that study the necessary investments should be made as quickly as possible. This is not only an expectation from the Commission; this is also a clear expectation from the people involved, from the customers.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Four years ago, the EU regulation on rail freight corridors came into force. How successful has it been? While the regulation sets out a legal framework for the corridors and defines certain tasks, long-term success will depend on the corridors ability to meet the expectations of their customers. They need continuous improvement of technical standards, capacity, procedures and customer interfaces — with a clear focus on customer needs.This requires a combination of long-term strategic work and short-term concrete solutions to the problems that customers are facing right now. One example of a concrete, low-cost solution is the simplification of operational rules and procedures across borders – for instance in border stations. Such projects could deliver real improvements very quickly, solving concrete problems for customers using the corridors.

This is the type of solution that could be delivered without waiting for the 4th railway package which, as everybody knows, is still under negotiation and will not be finally adopted before middle of next year.

In terms of co-operation between the different rail freight corridors, it is clear that railway operators using several corridors would like to see the same rules and the same customer interfaces across all corridors. That is a normal expectation. After all, the ultimate goal of the corridors is very simple: the customer should not notice any difference whether running a train within a single country, or across one or several borders within EU. And of course, there should be no difference when running a train across several rail freight corridors. We know that increased co-operation among corridors has started already, and I am confident this will deliver concrete results — to the benefit of the customers. After all, they are the ones that pay for our salaries.

The Commission provides funding — through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) — for carrying out necessary works to achieve the infrastructure standards. I encourage all stakeholders — in particular railway infrastructure managers and ministries — to carefully read our recently published call for proposals. Our infrastructure policy aims to close the gaps between Member States’ transport networks, remove bottlenecks that still hamper the smooth functioning of the internal market, and overcome technical barriers such as incompatible standards for rail traffic. It promotes and strengthens seamless transport chains for passengers and freight, while keeping up with future technological trends. Investing in the many projects that contribute to these objectives will be vital for smart, inclusive and sustainable growth in Europe. There is also an enormous potential for creating jobs – during construction and after completion – across many sectors of the economy.

Let me now turn to the rail traffic management system, ERTMS.

The Commission — together with the European coordinator, Mr Karel Vinck — is working to deliver a sound, reliable and stable technical system, thereby supporting a fair competitive environment for the railway operators. One of the objectives is to make it possible for operators to install a standardised on-board unit at a reasonable cost and to run on all corridors, regardless of which version is installed on the rail line.

I already mentioned the 4th Railway Package. This important initiative will be a driver of competitiveness and growth. It will remove barriers by simplifying and speeding up procedures, and reducing the cost of vehicle authorisation and safety certification. A greater role for the European Rail Agency (ERA) will contribute to ensuring consistency in Europe and drive more standardisation in European markets.A priority of the new Agency mandate is cooperation with national safety authorities, with a view to simplifying procedures and reducing time-to-market costs.The Agency will also help Member States to clean up their national legal systems, for example by repealing rules which have become obsolete.

One area of concern for the Commission is the development of European wagonload transport. Without this important feeder, rail freight loses considerable market share. As you are probably aware, the Commission is currently finalising a study of different policy options for wagonload transport. We are also looking specifically at the “last-mile” issue, recognizing the importance of last-mile infrastructure for the development of European wagonload transport. In this respect, we need less-costly maintenance procedures for little-used rail tracks. Your comments tomorrow will certainly contribute to this work.

I would briefly like to address innovation in rail. I am fully aware how difficult it is for the rail freight sector — often a low-margin business — to invest in innovation. That is why the Commission drastically increased the amount of funding available for rail research and innovation with the recent initiative called “Shift-2-Rail”.

Shift-2-Rail includes a strong freight component, reflecting the importance of rail freight in our policy, and I very much hope that Shift-2-Rail will indeed deliver valuable innovative solutions for freight. At the same time I would like to invite you to go beyond the technical innovation and also look at innovative business model that can help the rail to be become an equally attractive transport mode.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This conference comes at just the right time. As you know, yesterday President Juncker and the Commission presented the Investment Plan for Europe. The plan is designed to tackle the issue of low investment levels, bringing growth back to the European economy.

There is money available, and low interest rates, but investment is not happening as fast as it should be. The investment plan is about closing this gap. It will deliver sustainable investment in real projects for the real economy — to get Europe growing, and to create credible, lasting jobs, to get people back to work. The investment plan is also about achieving a properly functioning single market, by removing barriers to investment.

Transport, and rail projects in particular, stand to benefit from the instruments made available under the new Investment Plan. These instruments will be able to finance long term projects and higher levels of risk.

I see in particular three types of rail projects that might benefit from the Investment Plan:

The deployment of rail traffic management systems (ERTMS) all over Europe — along the tracks, but also on-board trains;multimodal platforms, improving the opportunities for combined transport;improving rail connections with ports and major industrial centres, in order to create a real level playing field between road and rail in these crucial “last-mile” connections.

Let me encourage you to help identify good, sustainable transport projects. Projects that have an EU added value, projects with high socio-economic returns, and projects that can start within the next three years. Let me also warmly encourage you to take an active role in speaking to stakeholders and governments at all levels — local, regional and national — to help bring about the regulatory changes we know are needed.

It is my privilege to be with you here, today, and I wish you a very successful conference, and I look forward to further exchanges with you on transport policy — and on rail in particular.

Thank you!


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