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Commission moves to improve cross-border rail transport

Under successive EU Framework Programmes, community research has developed innovative technologies and solutions to facilitate cross-border rail transport operations. Now, the European Commission has announced new steps aimed at improving cross-acceptance of rail products.

Rail station © Peter Gutierrez
© Peter Gutierrez

The terms ‘cross-acceptance’ or ‘homologation’ refer to the safety approval of locomotives or train sets in one Member State for use in another Member State. The Commission is proposing amendments to existing safety and interoperability legislation in line with recommendations made by the railways themselves in 2006. The modified legislation should bring more transparency into the approval process.

"The new rules will have a positive impact on better train approval procedures," explains EU project officer Frédéric Sgarbi, "facilitating the interoperability of trains across the different national networks and supporting the current trend of market liberalisation."

Europe railway associations, including European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM), the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) and the Association of European Railway Industries (UNIFE) have welcomed the steps. In a joint statement, Michael Robson, Secretary General of EIM, and Johannes Ludewig, Executive Director of CER, said, "As the European corridors are developing, it is clear that whatever can be done in the short term to ease the difficulties of operating a train service on a pan-European basis will be of benefit to all."

Beating road congestion

Today’s Europe railway system is organised mainly along national lines, with national procedures being the main barriers to real competition. A better train approval procedure is one of the most important of a number of improvements that are needed to support rail market opening.

The new changes will help to increase rail market share both for passengers and freight. This is now seen as a priority for coming legislative programmes, especially considering the negative environmental effects of the congested road network.

EU research already making a difference

"A major outcome of Community research under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) has been the launching of a series of large-scale and ambitious projects aimed at the definition of common architectures, interfaces and standards to facilitate the interoperability of future trains," says Sgarbi. Examples include MODTRAIN for inter-city trains, MODURBAN for light and underground trains, and INTEGRAIL for maximising rail infrastructure capacity.

The railway associations say work also remains to be done to ensure transparent and non-discriminatory access to Europe’s rail network. In this respect, they have also welcomed the completion of the SERVRAIL report to European Commission at the end of 2006. Particular difficulties that remain to be resolved include local energy supply arrangements, mirroring historic experience in sectors other than rail transport.

FP7 tackles issue head-on

The first ‘Sustainable surface transport’ call for proposals, officially launched in December 2006, will support the implementation of this new legislation initiative, with funding for research on ‘time and cost effective as well as harmonised homologation and cross-acceptance criteria along with increased inter-changeability of data, modules and sub-systems’ (Topic SST.2007.5.1.3 New production organisations and models).