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Question for written answer to the Commission

Aldo Patriciello (PPE)

Subject: Railway accident in Santiago de Compostela and safety of the European railway system

The recent railway tragedies in France, where a collision between two commuter trains resulted in six fatalities, and the even more serious disaster in Spain, where, on 24 July, 77 people were killed and 140 injured near Santiago de Compostela, due to the wicked recklessness of a train driver, have highlighted the problem of the technological shortcomings that are still present on many stretches of high speed railway lines in the EU.

The Alvia 730 series train derailed on a tight curve which is subject to a limit of 80 Km/h. The train, however, entered the bend at over 180 Km/h without any electronic system correcting the driver’s error.

For some time now the EU has been making efforts to harmonise European rail traffic by increasing technological levels through the establishment of the ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System), whose job it is to prevent trains from exceeding speed limits by automatically slowing them down.

Through the ERMTS, the central base station — via the radio transmission of digital data — is almost constantly in contact with the train, and in case of emergency is able to automatically intervene by taking command of the train.

The train in question, a modern S-730, can run on any track in Spain and was equipped with the ERTMS system, but the railway infrastructure depended only on the Spanish ASFA system, which is able to stop a train travelling too fast only when a beacon signal is issued, which in this case did not happen.

Such fatal circumstances would have been avoidable if the infrastructure had been technologically appropriate. Given that, according to Commission Communication COM(2010) 0474 of 17 September 2010, EU railway policy aims to facilitate the sustainable development of the EU economy by providing quality, reliable, safe and efficient services, does the Commission not think it should take action to step up efforts to harmonise EU traffic, which is a prerequisite for the establishment of a credible and safe European railway area?


Answer given by Mr Kallas
on behalf of the Commission

The Commission deeply regrets the recent rail accidents and expressed solidarity and support to the victims' families.

Under Directive 2004/49/EC, Member States have National Investigation Bodies (NIB), which must undertake safety investigations following serious accidents, establish their causes and identify possible measures to reduce recurrence. The NIBs reports into recent events should also address recommendations to the National Safety Authorities and other competent bodies, such as the European Railway Agency (ERA) and the Commission. The Commission must await the reports before drawing conclusions. If they reveal a need for futher EU level action, it will take the appropriate measures as a matter of urgency.

Concerning the safety signalling systems, the Commission initiated the development of ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) to underpin a sustainable, harmonised and safe European railway area. The corresponding standard is mandatory for any new lines and rail vehicles. Under a European deployment plan (EDP) (2009), Member States are to equip some lines with ERTMS by 2015. The Commission will report later this year and launch an impact asessment on the best measures for completing ERTMS on the EU core network by 2030, in line with the revised TEN-T guidelines(2).

Although the Santiago accident involved high speed rolling stock, it appears the accident happened on part of the conventional network linking to the high speed line. As such, there may have been no legal obligation to deploy ERTMS. If so, it was for the infrastructure manager to ensure the train control system was appropriate, but for the railway undertaking to ensure authorisation and compatibility of the rolling stock and driver licensing and training.