Chance for 'concrete progress' on single EU rail network

A 'supranational scale' rail network would ultimately benefit all citizens, writes Christine Revault d'Allonnes Bonnefoy.

For a number of years now, every individual and institutional European player, from both the public and private sectors, has been in agreement that the European rail network needs reform if it is to be completed, which is why the EU institutions have been working on new legislation for a fourth rail package, 12 years after the first one was drafted.

"MEPs have no intention of giving up the battle on the political front for extensive improvements to the quality of rail services in Europe"

The informal trilogue process − tripartite meetings attended by European parliament representatives − recently began work on the technical documentation for the package, to the relief of many of the sector's stakeholders awaiting concrete progress after months of waiting, following the approval of documentation by parliament in February. The ideal scenario would, of course, be to group together all the various technical and management areas and for everyone to agree that political reform is essential in establishing a single rail network. However, the opportunity finally arises to make concrete progress on a supranational scale by facilitating the work of operators, such as managers and administrators, which will ultimately benefit all European citizens.

If we take, for example, the case of the European railways agency, clearly both service providers and consumers in the sector have much to gain from an agency that plays a stronger, more transparent role. Harmonisation of national regulations would promote a high level of safety and security across Europe, while the establishment of a one-stop certification of rolling stock and infrastructure would deliver considerable time and financial savings. However, even though the main objectives may be shared by all, extensive negotiation will be required to devise a common consolidated text.

Parliament has made it clear in its applications to the council that the agency should be solely responsible for the authorisations it issues, even though, technically, it should still rely on the safety and security networks of national authorities. The agency should play a role in developing the European railway traffic management system, and facilitate coordination between the various different systems. It should monitor national safety and security regulations and make its recommendations to the commission regarding the European standards it draws up. The agency should also have jurisdiction in terms of replacement parts, the qualifications of staff responsible, safety and security. Finally, it should be able to have recourse to an independent board of appeal, avoid conflicts of interest as much as possible, be responsible for the guidelines it issues, including ensuring that its director cooperates to the greatest possible extent with court authorities in the wake of any incident. These are the qualities MEPs want the agency to have to enable it to play an effective role.

Negotiations will continue in the coming months and the technical section could be completed in the first quarter of 2015. However, MEPs have no intention of giving up the battle on the political front for extensive improvements to the quality of rail services in Europe. In this period of sluggish growth, anything that contributes to greater mobility, productivity and investing in the future is essential. This is why parliament will do its utmost to finalise this critical project at the earliest possible opportunity.

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