European Year of Rail 2021: A year of opportunity

We must take the European Year of Rail 2021 as a chance to create better framework conditions within, and for, rail transport, writes Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg.
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By Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg

Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg (DE, Greens/EFA) is Parliament’s rapporteur on the European Year of Rail report

28 Feb 2021

In light of the European Green Deal and the climate crisis, rail plays a central role on our way to climate neutrality in the transport sector. It already allows us to transport people and goods across Europe efficiently, safely and in a climate-friendly way. In the future, we will be increasingly dependent on rail to offer people modern and sustainable mobility.

For this, we need an innovative and resilient rail sector, capable of meeting the demands of the 21st century and competing with road and air transport. The European Union has therefore declared 2021 as the European Year of Rail.

“We need an innovative and resilient rail sector, capable of meeting the demands of the 21st century and competing with road and air transport”

The Year of Rail is a fantastic chance to champion rail as the green and innovative backbone of our transport system. First, we want to celebrate and promote rail for both its cultural significance and everyday importance. Throughout Europe, events and campaigns will highlight the advantages of rail mobility and promote a debate between stakeholders and decision makers. Each Member State will delegate a point of contact for coordinating the activities at a national level.

At the same time, we want to deliver tangible improvements for passengers and good travelling by rail, such as promoting investments in modern and digitalised rail infrastructure, improving data sharing and ticketing, creating a real night-train network in Europe and ensuring a level playing field between the different modes of transport.

From sustainable investments in rail infrastructure to a European night train network and the shift of freight transport to rail or closing gaps in the cross-border rail network - the range of topics for the Year of Rail to address is wide.

We also want to answer important technical questions: how can rail make the best use of the benefits that digitalisation offers us? How can we ensure a fast, Europe-wide deployment of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and digital automatic coupling? As rapporteur in the European Parliament and a committed rail passenger myself, the Year of Rail is particularly close to my heart.

I am therefore all the more pleased that, at the initiative of the Parliament, the European Commission has been mandated to develop a connectivity index to guide investments in the rail network. This will enable us to identify and make better use of untapped potential for regional economies, sustainable tourism and culture across Europe.

A label for goods transported in an environmentally friendly manner (i.e. by rail) will also be introduced. But these initiatives can only be the beginning. Particularly now - during the current pandemic - we have witnessed that rail is a reliable, safe and low-emitting mode of transport.

“National Recovery and Resilience Plans under NextGenerationEU will have to play a significant role in delivering the investments needed to make rail fit for the future”

Therefore, I see it as essential that national Recovery and Resilience Plans under NextGenerationEU will have to play a significant role in delivering the investments needed to make rail fit for the future. It is now more important than ever to invest in modern infrastructure and rolling stock to expand the capacity of our rail networks, strengthen cross-border mobility and make rail mobility available to rural citizens. It is essential that - no matter which crisis we are facing - we leave no one behind.

After the crisis, the crisis remains; while we are starting to learn how to handle the pandemic, we are still massively struggling to deal with the climate crisis. To reach our EU goals of climate neutrality by 2050, the transport sector needs to dramatically reduce its net emissions. Sustainable mobility is only possible with a true ‘renaissance of rail’.

For the European Year of Rail to be successful, it needs one thing above all - your help. We can only make a difference if many take part in the debate. That is why I would like to invite you to actively participate as a company, expert, civil society organisation or passenger. Demonstrate locally what rail does for people and the economy and what is needed to make it even better. Get in touch with political decision-makers, visit or organise events and contribute to the debate with your ideas and concerns.

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