Parliament and council of ministers on track for EU railway area

MEP and Latvian presidency negotiators have struck an informal deal on the 'technical pillar' of the fourth railway package to improve the competitiveness of Europe's rail sector and quality of rail services.

By Desmond Hinton-Beales

18 Jun 2015

The deal was reached on Thursday to remove the technical obstacles facing rail operators and manufacturers by replacing the differing national standards across the European Union with a single approval system.

Safety and technical certification for operators, locomotives and carriages will see reduced costs and faster procedures under the new system for cross-border services, with the European railway agency (ERA) becoming responsible for these applications.

For services within member states, applications can be made to the ERA or instead national authorisation can be sought. MEP negotiators insisted that the new system be operational within three years of the rule entering into force, but member states have the possibility of extending this by one year if they can justify themselves to the ERA.


Chair of parliament's transport and tourism committee Michael Cramer said, "This could be the breakthrough for the European railway area. We have managed to overcome separate national procedures and create EU-wide rules that will help industry to make trains cheaper and safer.

"Instead of 26 national procedures, manufacturers will be able to use just one procedure in Europe. The ERA will help overcome more than 11,000 national rules. This lays the foundation for the European railway area."

Rapporteur for the ERA regulation Roberts Zile stressed that, "The European railway sector still faces continuous problems such as barriers to competition, discrimination and the lack of a dynamic business-friendly environment. New legislation will lead to more harmonised rules on interoperability and safety and a more open EU railway market.

"The new ERA will play a greater role in authorising wagons and locomotives as well as certifying railway undertakings. Its role will also be strengthened with regard to moving towards a system of truly transparent and impartial railway rules at union level and a gradual reduction in national rules.

The European Conservatives and Reformists deputy said that while the role of some EU agencies is "rather disputable and not very clear […] a strong, well-equipped and efficient railway agency is a precondition to ensure the development and functioning of European transport market, and especially in the railway sector".

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group deputy, and rapporteur on the interoperability directive, Izaskun Bilbao Barandica also welcomed the deal, saying, "Europe needs integrated efficient mobility, which is cleaner than the current system. It is central to our competitiveness.

"Railways play an important role in getting there and their development is now limited by barriers linked to the situation prior to the creation of the European Union. We need a single railway area where operators and manufacturers of infrastructure and rolling stock can provide better and cheaper services to passengers and companies that move goods.

"The interoperability directive is a step in that direction: it simplifies procedures, eliminates barriers, facilitating the emergence of cross-border services and aims to open a market that has a lot of potential to improve the lives of citizens, the competitiveness of enterprises, create jobs and wealth and provide a cleaner and sustainable alternative transport system."

The informal agreement on the technical pillar now awaits approval from the committee of permanent representatives of the council and parliament's transport and tourism committee, followed by a plenary vote and council decision.

The incoming Luxembourg EU council presidency is aiming to reach a council position on the political pillar files in October's council meeting. After this is achieved negotiations with parliament can begin.

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