European sustainability councils call for a boost in the post-pandemic shift to rail for international travel

Europe can and must do more to improve international passenger travel by rail. This will contribute towards the EU’s environmental goals, will enhance the economic competitiveness of agglomerations and stimulate sustainable tourism. Moreover, the transport sector will need support from the EU to prevent decline in the wake of the current COVID-19-crisis. This support can be used as an incentive for a post-pandemic shift to a more sustainable and efficient mobility system throughout the European Union. Now is the time to support a shift from aviation to trains, specifically for short-haul flights. A European consortium of governmental advisory councils therefore urges the European Commission to take this opportunity to boost international passenger rail.

Lack of international cooperation due to focus on domestic needs

Up until now, the international rail network consists primarily of interlinked national systems which are optimised to meet domestic needs. This pushes the needs of the international traveller to the background. The councils conclude that the lack of international cooperation persists because public authorities, rail carriers and infrastructure managers are primarily held to account for their performance in providing domestic services and to a lesser degree for international services.

Travel info, ticketing and passenger rights

The quality of international travel information and ticketing is below par. Travelers want a single service point and a single ticket for their international train journey. In a short space of time, much can be achieved by providing adequate travel information, simplifying ticketing, and improving passenger rights. To that end, there is urgent need for better EU regulation on travel information and ticketing and the ongoing revision of the EU Regulation on passengers’ rights presents an opportunity to improve just that.

Need for a corridor authority

The councils see a need for an improved international coordination on the main rail links between the major urban centres in Europe. The councils are in favour of an EU regulation establishing an European governance structure for the rail network, as better coordination on this level is essential for improving international rail connectivity. This pan-European initiative could start with international coordination along separate core corridors for passenger transport within Europe: Rail Passenger Corridors. Ultimately, a European corridor authority should be able to supervise and monitor international rail traffic. This authority should also be able to coordinate between public and private rail parties concerned, to accommodate with international rail services in the interests of international rail passengers.

Call for a major boost

The councils call upon the European Commission to give priority to further improvement of international passenger transport by rail. So far the European approach has leaned heavily on stimulating market mechanisms, harmonising regulations and technical standardisation. This has not yet brought about the development of a thriving international rail market. The major boost that is needed implies an increase in political attention, speeding up policy effort and stimulating all parties concerned to improve international passenger rail even further. Better coordination across the European rail network should provide easy accessibility to excellent railservices for international travellers and bring about a huge improvement. However improvements to the speed and connectedness of the network itself are also fundamental.

Note to the editor:

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About Rli - The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) is the primary strategic advisory board for the Dutch Government and Parliament. The Rli operates independently and provides solicited and unsolicited advice on general policy aspects on sustainable development of the physical environment and infrastructure. It particularly addresses strategic social issues related to spatial planning, economy, housing, environment, food and resources, nature, agriculture, mobility and transport, and external safety. The Council is chaired by Jan Jaap de Graeff.

About FRDO - The Federal Council for Sustainable Development (FRDO-CFDD) advises the Belgian federal government on federal policy on sustainable development. In the work of the Council, special attention is paid to the implementation of Belgium's international commitments, such as Agenda 21, the Climate Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity.

About CSDD - The High Council was established by law in 2004 as an advisory body for reflection and discussion on matters regarding sustainable development.

About SRU - The German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) is an expert advisory body whose mission is to describe and assess environmental conditions, problems, and political trends and to point out solutions and preventive measures. The SRU is bound by the mission established in its charter but is fully independent to determine its advice and the focus and scope of its reports.

About RNE - The German Council for Sustainable Development initiates and supports projects that aim at societal change, making sustainability a tangible issue in everyday life. The Council stimulates the debate and aims to make sustainability a public concern.

About EEAC - The European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils (EEAC) is a network of advisory bodies established by national or regional governments or parliaments. EEAC members offer independent advice to their respective national or regional governments and parliaments related to the environment and sustainable development. Seventeen advisory bodies from thirteen European countries and regions are member of the EEAC Network. With representatives from academia, civil society, the private sector and public bodies the EEAC network brings together experts with years of experience producing independent advice.