Trains will run faster on key routes across Europe, and ticket prices and supplier costs could be slashed under a plan from Brussels to fuel faltering efforts to make rail Europe’s default mode of transport.
A new speed requirement would be introduced in 2040 to ensure that trains on a central network of tracks can travel at 160 km / h or faster, the European Commission has proposed.
Cross-border travel, including night trains, would be encouraged by facilitating ticketing and potentially reducing track access fees faced by rail companies.
Commission vice chair Frans Timmermans, who put forward the proposals for the bloc’s 27 member states to agree, said the EU executive would also consider introducing a VAT exemption for train tickets.
Timmermans, a former Dutch Foreign Minister, said: “We will speed up travel times and facilitate the construction of a competitive rail network across Europe. Work will begin next year on 15 pilot projects to improve long-distance rail services on the main train corridors: train tickets should be easier to find, book and buy at attractive prices. In this context, we will also analyze a VAT exemption for international train tickets ”.
The commission has long referred to the rail travel revolution in Europe. The EU has set itself a goal of doubling high-speed rail traffic by 2030 and tripling it by 2050, in an attempt to cut carbon emissions from transport by 90% over the next three decades. But experts say that cross-border routes remain expensive and unnecessarily slow.
The EU is expected to fall short of its goal of having 31,000 km of high-speed rail in operation in the next eight years. High-speed rail projects are decided by national governments, not the commission, and despite the fact that the European Central Bank (ECB) has provided significant levels of loans, Brussels has struggled to encourage investment in cross-border travel.
In the case of long-distance freight rail, trains often get stuck at borders due to ineffective rail security controls. A 2018 report on EU high-speed rail by the European Court of Auditors described “a patchwork of national lines built by member states in isolation, without proper coordination across borders.”
High tariffs for access to tracks and the take-off of low-cost flights have long been cited as reasons for the decline of night trains in Europe.
When national railway companies owned the railway infrastructure and trains, agreements were reached between those who operated in different countries to keep track access rates low. When the administration of the railways was separated, those positions became sources of income and the agreements that were previously mutually useful to facilitate international travel disappeared.
The commission has proposed that it will issue guidelines in 2023 on setting fares in order to boost affordable cross-border travel. The ECB is also launching a loan program for railway companies wishing to buy rolling stock.
Herwig Schuster, Greenpeace transport expert, said: “It is essential that the EU makes train travel easier, faster and more affordable, helping people to choose the climate-friendly option and fly less. The commission’s plan includes some really great ideas to better support the railroad; now we need to see the trace.
“The EU and national governments have for too long prioritized dirty road and aviation projects – they must stop paying polluters and start funding transportation that works for people and doesn’t spoil the climate.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism