Wednesday, March 11, 2020

EC Choice of 2021 as European Year of Rail Pleases Freight Lobby Group

Tie Up with Green Deal Objectives
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE – The European Commission (EC) has announced a proposal to make 2021 the European Year of Rail, in an effort to support the delivery of its European Green Deal objectives in the transport field. The European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) has welcomes the proposal believing that that such a move should serve as an opportunity to finally deliver a legal framework that meets the needs of the rail freight sector.

A series of events, campaigns and initiatives in 2021 will promote rail as a sustainable, innovative and safe mode of transport. It will highlight its benefits for people, the economy and the climate and focus on the remaining challenges to create a true Single European Rail Area without borders. Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean, said:

“There's no doubt that railway transport means huge benefits in most areas: sustainability, safety, even speed, once it's organised and engineered according to 21st century principles. But there's also something more profound about railways: they connect the EU together not only in physical terms. Setting up a coherent and functional network across all Europe is an exercise in political cohesion. The European Year of Rail is not a random event. It comes at an appropriate time, when the EU needs this kind of collective undertaking.”

As one of the most sustainable and safest modes of transport around, rail will play a major role in Europe's future mobility. Rail is not only environmentally friendly and energy-efficient, it is also the only mode of transport to have almost continuously reduced its CO2 emissions since 1990, at the same time as it increased transport volumes.

Rail connects people, regions and businesses all across the EU. Moreover, those in the industry lobby say it is proof of European engineering expertise and is part of the continent’s heritage and culture. A European Year of Rail in 2021 is aimed at helping to step up the pace of rail modernisation which is needed to make it a more popular alternative to less sustainable transport modes.

2021 will be the first full year in which the rules agreed under the Fourth Railway Package will be implemented throughout the EU. 2021 also marks several important anniversaries for rail: the 20th anniversary of the first Railway Package, the 175th anniversary of the first ever rail link between two EU capitals (Paris-Brussels), as well as 40 years of Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) and 30 years of Inter City Express services (ICE). The international arts festival Europalia has already chosen railways as its 2021 theme, and will be an active contributor to the wide range of activities taking place throughout the European Year of Rail.

In welcoming the proposal, the ERFA says that it strongly believes that the proposal for a European Year of Rail is well aligned with the European Commission’s Green Deal. It is impossible to achieve this objective if transport emissions are not addressed. In 2017, 27% of all greenhouse gas emissions came from transport. Railways accounted for 0.5% of these emissions and clearly represent the best means by which to bring EU transport emissions under control. Modal shift is therefore essential.

However, for modal shift to be achieved, especially in relation to freight, the ERFA says that an ambitious revision of the existing legal framework and financial mechanisms are required. The European Year of Rail should serve as the moment to highlight the benefits of rail, but also to openly discuss how the sector can further contribute to Europe’s economic and climate related goals. Dirk Stahl, ERFA President, said:

“ERFA strongly supports the European Commission proposal to designate 2021 as the European Year of Rail. Rail has a critical role to play in ensuring that Europe can meet its 2050 objective of net-zero carbon emissions. The European Year of Rail must serve as the opportunity to finally begin work towards the creation of a competitive single European railway area that meets the needs of the rail freight industry.”

The Commission's proposal on declaring 2021 the European Year of Rail now needs to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. Conor Feighan, ERFA Secretary General, commented:

“The proposed European Year of Rail is well timed given that 2021 will be an important moment for the future of rail freight. 2021 will see the tabling of some key legal texts, such as the revision of the Rail Freight Corridors Regulation, which will play a pivotal role in determining whether rail freight can reach its true potential. ERFA is ready to contribute to the European Year of Rail in whatever way possible. The European Year of Rail should signal a new ambition for a European Single Railway Area and a departure from various national approaches and business as usual.”

In December 2019, the EC set out a European Green Deal for the EU and its citizens, with the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. As transport accounts for a quarter of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions, the sector will play a crucial role in achieving this target and has been set the objective of reducing its emissions by 90% by 2050.

As part of the European Green Deal, the Commission is currently working on a strategy for sustainable and smart mobility that will address emissions from all transport modes. As a matter of priority, a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried today by road should shift onto rail and inland waterways.