Brussels, 28 January 2014
Ladies and gentlemen
Many thanks for inviting me to this important award ceremony.
I would also like to congratulate this year's laureates – Giorgio Diana, who receives the technical award for his contribution to rail vehicle dynamics; and one of my predecessors, Jacques Barrot, for the political award.
Jacques’ achievements as European Transport Commissioner have given us a good stepping-stone for tackling the many challenges that rail still faces today.
During his tenure, Europe’s railway market saw some important changes. Hopefully, it has done so during mine as well. I think we are now in the end-game as far as the much-needed reform of Europe’s railways is concerned.
To be honest, it has been long overdue. In many areas, we have allowed ourselves to languish in the 19th century. Rail deserves better – and so do European citizens.
There have been several factors driving my philosophy for railway reform. But the underlying principles are, I think, the same ones that you share.
These are for our railways to achieve their full growth potential, to make them better and easier to use – faster, more punctual, efficient and reliable; attractive to both business and passengers.
We all know the statistics. Only 6% of passenger journeys made in Europe every year are by rail. That hasn’t really changed since 2000. Although it represents more than 8 billion people who are not adding to city traffic jams or to wider road congestion, I believe that number can be raised.
I was dismayed to see a recent Eurobarometer survey showing that only a quarter of travellers in the EU regularly go by train. Given that rail ranks among the most efficient and climate-friendly forms of transport, this is not enough. Passenger satisfaction with rail services should really be much higher.
I was also worried by the high proportion of people in some EU countries who think that it’s just too complicated to buy train tickets - so they don’t.
Travelling by train should be as quick and easy as getting the car out of the garage. Until things improve, rail will continue to find it difficult to challenge the dominance of road transport.
Roads are likely to remain competitive in freight and passenger transport in the medium term. Rail has to be made competitive as well.
Ladies and gentlemen
It was in 2011 that I set out my long-term vision for the future of European transport in a White Paper. It responds to challenges faced by the sector such as rising congestion and traffic demand, and the need to build sustainable transport links to fuel European economic growth.
Specifically, there are targets for road freight and passenger transport to shift to other forms of transport such as rail.
Most importantly, it sets out the idea of creating a Single European Railway Area to achieve a more competitive and resource-efficient European transport system.
We have made a good start towards this with the agreement on the rail recast, which Member States have to put into their national legislations next year.
It will stimulate investment, improve market access conditions and strengthen the role of national rail regulators.
While this is good news, Europe still has an inadequate legal environment for rail that is not suited for coping with all the challenges. The recast has paved the way for the various major proposals that together form the 4th Railway Package, without which the European single market will not – and cannot - be complete.
You are all familiar with their details. They aim to remove the administrative, technical and regulatory obstacles that are holding back the rail sector in terms of market opening and interoperability.
They also address the structure of Europe’s railways, which must be organised in a way that allows non-discriminatory access.
There has already been significant progress made on the technical pillar during the Irish and Lithuanian Presidencies. The negotiations are continuing and I don’t expect them to be easy. We will clearly face conservatism in the discussions on market opening, for example.
However, I was delighted to hear Minister Chrisochoidis say in his recent statement to the European Parliament that he is committed to pushing the 4th Railway Package forward as a priority during the Greek Presidency.
This is why I rely on the CER and UNIFE memberships to make sure our shared vision of a sustainable and efficient rail transport system becomes reality.
Ladies and gentlemen
The 4th Package goes hand in hand with our work to revitalise Europe’s railways by making more use of research and innovation. This will help rail to provide better and more efficient services so that customers have an attractive choice.
I’m happy to say that we are now in a position to move closer to those goals, with the new public-private partnership Shift2Rail, which triples our funding for research and innovation in rail. Over the next 7 years, almost €1 billion of public and private funds will be invested, reflecting the Commission’s strong commitment to rail.
Shift2Rail will help to develop technological advances that will be critical for the completion of the Single European Railway Area.
It will help industry to produce new technologies for trains, infrastructure and traffic management systems that substantially reduce operational and infrastructure costs, and significantly improve the attractiveness and capacity of European railways. Shift2Rail will help to get them to market more quickly.
Of course, these new technologies will also have to be rolled out on the ground.
This is why the tripling of funds also applies to EU investments in infrastructure. This is thanks to the Connecting Europe Facility, where investments will rise from 8 billion euros in the last budget period to 26 billion for the next.
Put together with our revised TEN-T policy and its focus on core network corridors, the stage is set for a new era in European transport infrastructure.
This will be critical for the effective functioning of the European economy.
These goals reflect in essence what I have tried to achieve – or at least set firmly in motion – for European railways during my time as Transport Commissioner.
Throughout this time, my aim has been to find and deliver the best combination between policy and technical innovation: the two categories for the European Rail Awards. Today’s winners have helped the industry advance as a whole, so allow me congratulate you both again.
If European railways are to become more attractive and competitive, it is in both of these areas that we need to progress. It is why the 4th Railway Package and Shift2Rail programme work so well together.
This is how we can generate more rail traffic, more employment opportunities and better conditions.
That benefits everyone: the rail industry, freight businesses – and all passengers.
Thank you for your attention.