Strasbourg comment: Railway safety

The EU is on track for more safety, lower costs and a more efficient service on its railways, writes Michael Cramer.

By Michael Cramer

28 Feb 2014

More safety, fewer costs and fewer delays: this, in a nutshell, is the outcome of the European parliament's vote on railway safety.

Whereas cars, lorries or airplanes can easily cross borders within the European Union, the environmentally-friendly railways are hindered by a patchwork of more than 11,000 national rules for safety certification and train authorisation.

A railway undertaking that wants to operate in more than one member state currently needs a new safety certificate every time it crosses a border, which makes operations more expensive and causes substantial delays.

"Railway undertakings should be able to ask for a single European safety certificate instead of several national ones"

This is anachronistic, given that nowadays a large share of trains cross borders, with more than 50 per cent of freight operations, for instance, being international in nature.

The European parliament therefore endorsed, with an overwhelming majority, across all major political groups, the commission's proposal to harmonise and streamline the rules and procedures.

Railway undertakings should be able to ask for a single European safety certificate instead of several national ones. This certificate should be valid for a specified area of operation in the EU.

This new framework can only be successful if the European railway agency (ERA), which was created in 2006, coordinates the work of national safety authorities. Parliament wants it to become the 'one-stop shop' for safety certification and train authorisation.

But, of course, we do not want to establish a giant European authority, but call for a new division of tasks between the European and the national level. The ERA should ensure the respect of deadlines and quality standards as well as uniform application of EU rules, thereby increasing the safety level in many member states.

The parliament thus sends a clear message: Although the railways are already the safest mode of transport in the EU, a clever cooperation of all players can further improve the safety level and save costs and time.

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