Cross Border Rail – mit Jon Worth

Oft wird über die Bahnprobleme an Grenzen geredet, unser Gast Jon Worth hat es einfach ausprobiert. Er ist über jede Binnengrenze der EU mit der Bahn gefahren, über die man theoretisch mit der Bahn fahren kann. Dabei hat er bemerkt, oft fehlt es am politischen Willen, die Situation zu verbessern.

Im Podcast erklärt er, was passieren muss und warum er die Europäische Union in der Pflicht sieht.

Update:
Im Podcast sagen wir, wir hätten noch keine Antwort von der Europäischen Kommission bekommen. Inzwischen ist diese Antwort gekommen. Wir veröffentlichen die Antwort hier im Wortlaut für euch (auf Englisch). Nachdem ihr den Podcast gehört habt, könnt ihr euch diese Antworten der EU durchlesen und euch euer eigenes Bild machen, ob die Kritikpunkte dadurch entkräftet werden (oder nicht).

1. What does the European Union do to substantially improve rail connectivity between European states?

As one of the most sustainable transport modes, rail plays a key role in the EU’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions from transport by 90% by 2050. Our aim is to double high-speed rail traffic by 2030, and tripling it by 2050.

Creating a Single European Railway Area and integrating the 25 different national rail networks, each with their own technical standards and booking systems, is an important goal for the European Union. To that end, following the adoption of four consecutive railway packages, European legislation is in place that aims to harmonise technical, operational and administrative rules so that enterprises and trains can operate freely throughout the Union.

Furthermore, through various financial instruments, the European Union co-finances railway infrastructure in and between the Member States. For example, in the period 2014 – 2020, the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) supported over 400 rail projects with a contribution of approximately EUR 16.5 billion. Following the COVID pandemic, the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) has offered an unprecedented opportunity for new investments in rail, with almost 50 billion euro of additional funding expected for rail. 

With the Action plan to boost long-distance and cross-border passenger rail of December 2021, the Commission has identified remaining barriers to cross-border passenger rail and has suggested actions, including for Member States and other actors: On the Commission side, these actions include, amongst other things, a legislative proposal to strengthen rail infrastructure within the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) – our network of rail, inland waterways, short-sea shipping routes and roads connecting 424 major cities with ports, airports and railway terminals. The Commission proposed to make it mandatory for trains to be able travel at 160 km/h or faster on major TEN-T passenger rail lines by 2040. The revision also sets the deadline of 2030 for the completion of key high-speed lines.

The Action Plan also includes upcoming initiatives to improve rail capacity planning, promote multi-modal ticketing (MDMS), improve interoperability (TSI package) and harmonise training of train drivers. The European legislation also gives Member States much influence and much flexibility, for example when devising the structure and level of track access charges, priority rules on the rail network, national ticketing schemes and public service contracts.

Other actors also play a role: Infrastructure managers have a legal obligation to coordinate cross-border train paths and to optimise the use of the heavily subsidised railway infrastructure. Railway undertakings, although operating in a competitive environment, would benefit from allowing more third-parties to sell their tickets and to make their own websites more attractive by selling tickets from other operators, even from their competitors – this will be supported by the MDMS initiative mentioned above. A lack of overview of the complete train offer on a certain route just drives the traveller away from rail to other transport modes. The Commission will also address this point in the context of the review of the MMTIS Delegation Regulation.

In sum, improving rail connectivity is a goal we can only reach together.

2. Has Transport Commissioner Adina Valean received the postcards from Jon Worth, and if yes what is her response to these examples of insufficiant border crossings, as she is also in the Comissioners‘ Group on the Europan Green Deal?   

Commissioner Vălean has received the postcards; see replies above and below regarding the EU’s response to the remaining obstacles for cross-border rail.

3. One of the identified problems is also the lack of through-ticketing stopping in particular at borders. The EU has only recently changed the rules on that, but through ticketing is still not mandetory. Passenger rights still not guaranteed, further discuraging people to use rail internationally. Is the comission considering a revision on these rules?

In 2021, the Rail Passenger Rights Regulation has been revised, bringing significant improvements for passengers as of June 2023 (please see more details here). It has to be underlined, that it is the very first time that the EU legislator agreed on a legal obligation for carriers to offer through-tickets. It is limited in scope, but nevertheless, this step should not be underestimated.

Carriers that qualify as a “sole undertaking” based on their ownership are obliged to offer all their long-distance (international and domestic) and regional rail services as a through-ticket. This will ensure that passengers who bought these kind of tickets and who missed a connection will reach their final destination, making use of all passenger rights granted at EU level (e.g. the rights to re-routing and compensation, accommodation and refreshments). Other carriers, who do not qualify as “sole undertakings” are under a legal obligation to “make all reasonable efforts to offer through-tickets and shall cooperate to that end among themselves”.

Carriers may indeed be interested to increase their cooperation because if – in cases of travel disruptions – they are not in the position to ensure that passengers reach the final destination in a timely manner, the latter have a new right to self-rerouting. The carrier whose service was delayed or cancelled will have then to reimburse the passenger for the last-minute alternative ticket, which the passenger chose him or herself under the following conditions: Within a period of 100 minutes as of the disruption, the carrier’s consent would be still needed if passengers want to conclude a new transport contract with other providers of transport services (which should not necessarily be rail or bus carriers). However, where no solution was offered within 100 minutes, the carrier’s consent will no longer be needed: passengers can directly self- reroute themselves to other providers of public (rail or bus) transport services and request to be reimbursed.

Furthermore, infrastructure managers and railway undertakings will be obliged to provide real-time dynamic traffic data and travel information (including information on delays, fares and reservation requests), not only to other railway undertakings but also to ticket vendors and tour operators. This will ensure on the one hand that all passengers will dispose of the same quality level of real-time information during their journey – irrespective of whether they purchased their ticket directly from a carrier or from a ticket vendor or tour operator. On the other hand, the new right to real-time information would also allow ticket vendors and tour operators to widen their ticket offers, which would help attract more passengers to the rail sector.

Even so, the offer of through tickets is still limited. This is particularly problematic for passengers who have to combine tickets from different operators for a longer journey and are then not sufficiently protected in case they miss a connection. The Commission plans to address this question of journey continuation for the rail sector as part of the proposal on multi-modal digital mobility services (MDMS), which has been announced for 2023.  

4. Another problem is the lack of coordination of timetables cross border. Does the EU comission plan on coordinating timetable coordination, and if yes, how?

The coordination of timetables across borders clearly remains unsatisfactory in the European Union.

The process to establish timetables continues to be driven largely at the national level. European law defines a common framework but it is limited to general principles. The detailed rules, processes, and tools for the management of capacity on the rail network are established at national level by Member States and infrastructure managers. Despite legal obligations for cooperation and coordination, timetables for cross-border trains, the so-called train paths, often remain a sequence of incoherent national sections which often do not provide a seamless journey.

The problem is not limited to passenger transport. Therefore, and given the strong European dimension of rail freight transport, of which 50% crosses one or more intra-EU border, a Regulation creating European freight corridors was already adopted in 2010 (Regulation (EU) 913/2010). The  Regulation creates dedicated tools to facilitate efficient cross-border timetables for freight trains, such as one-stop shops for capacity requests and allocation and pre-arranged cross-border train paths.

However, an evaluation carried out by the Commission in 2021 has shown that implementation of the Regulation by the rail sector has not produced significant and measurable benefits for cross-border traffic so far. Obviously, the Regulation addresses only freight traffic so did not improve the timetables of cross-border passenger trains.

In the light of an increased political urgency to promote rail transport, both passenger and freight, as an instrument to make the European transport system more sustainable, the European Commission announced an initiative to better manage and coordinate cross-border traffic in its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy [action no. 19 of the action plan, for details seehttps://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/13134-International-freight-and-passenger-transport-increasing-the-share-of-rail-traffic_en

The initiative (planned for 2023) will address the need for a more customer- and performance-oriented approach to managing rail network capacity on the basis of stronger harmonisation and standardisation and with the support of more effective digital tools linking European and national levels. The Commission will propose changes to the relevant legal framework, in particular Regulation 913/2010, that enables such an approach which should be supported by a lean but effective governance at European level.

5. Trains often also end at the last station at the border, leaving a gap in the network even though the infrastucture exists. (Hendaye – Irun for example) How does the EU work to change that?

Indeed, it is a pity to see rail services stop at a national border, especially when the absence of infrastructure on the other side is not the problem. Cross-border rail services are an important enabler of more sustainable mobility patterns for international travel, and the EU is committed to foster their development. The absence of services usually points to the lack of a viable business case for commercial operations. As mentioned under Question 1, the Commission carried out a study to identify the obstacles which hamper commercial services in 2021, and has adopted an Action Plan to remove them. However, addressing those obstacles, which include high track access charges and interoperability issues, will also require the cooperation of Member States.

Public service obligations (PSOs) which are also an option where there is an established need and no prospect of commercial offer for specific connections, are entirely in the hands of competent authorities in Member States. The establishment of PSOs for cross-border services, which may be local, regional, or long-distance, requires the explicit agreement of all the Member States on whose territory the services will be provided. It is important that the award of any corresponding public service contract is carried out in a fair and transparent way. The legislative framework applying to PSOs already exists (Regulation (EU)1370/2007) and the Commission is currently working on interpretative Guidelines to clarify its application to cross-border services.

6. We recently had the European year of rail. What specifically came out of this in terms of actual policy?

The most important delivery of the European Year in Rail in terms of policy was the Action plan to boost long-distance cross-border passenger rail services, which the Commission presented in December 2021, together with a proposal for a revision of the TEN-T Regulation, which will strengthen the European rail infrastructure. The measures announced in the plan include legislative initiatives on rail interoperability, training of train drivers, improved capacity management and ticketing, a review of the Railway Guidelines on State aid, as well as interpretative Guidelines on the Land PSO (Public Service Obligations) Regulation and Guidelines on track access charges. As part of the Action Plan, the Commission invited railway undertakings, infrastructure managers and competent authorities to propose cross-border pilot services that address the identified obstacles. Proposals can be submitted until 31 October 2022. 

Beyond policy output, the European Year of Rail has been very valuable in building support for the efforts of the Union, Member States, regional and local authorities, and other organisations to increase the share of passengers and freight moving by rail. The Connecting Europe Express – a dedicated train that travelled across Europe in September and October, visiting 26 countries in 36 days, +200 stops along the journey – has been one of the main highlights of the Year. This train was a good example of the opportunities and challenges of pan-European rail; having a train travel through so many countries is a complex undertaking that requires cooperation between various actors and the overcoming of technical obstacles such as the different track gauges that we have in Europe. The aim of the initiative was to bring these actors together, to showcase the potential of rail and the TEN-T network – while shining a light on the many obstacles that rail still needs to overcome to become the preferred mode of transport.

The Connecting Europe Express was a living laboratory of all the work that remains to be done to complete the Single European Rail Area and the TEN-T network. Ideally, it should have been a single train but the continued lack of interoperability between some parts of Europe’s network means that, in reality, three different trains were necessary to fit the different gauges used in Europe. But the set-up of the train highlighted many other issues that need to be tackled – see Director-General Henrik Hololei’s key takeaways here.

The train passed by places where substantial investment and EU funding are supporting the construction of new rail infrastructure, which should be operational around 2030, e.g. the Lyon-Turin tunnel, Brenner and Rail Baltica.

Rail also features prominently in the European Year of Youth 2022. Initiatives such as DiscoverEU – our popular EU programme, which regularly gives out free travel passes to 18-year-olds – are a great way to promote railways and allow our younger generation to discover Europe. The Commission is also working on promoting more sustainable travel as part of the Erasmus programme.

7. International timetables do not include all trains. Why does data about all train services not appear in international timetable (as found though Deutsche Bahn)? For example Latour du Carol – Barcelona, Euskotren in Basque region or any trains in Estonia)

Through Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/1926 with regard to the provision of EU-wide multimodal travel information services (MMTIS) and through the Technical Specifications for Interoperability on telematics applications for passenger services, all timetable and fare data must be made available by all passenger rail operators and/or competent authorities responsible for subsidised transport (through a Public Service Obligation, or PSO). Therefore, choosing not to display that information to their own customers is a commercial choice made by the respective ticket vending platforms (like DB’s Bahn.de). At the same time, even if this data is available on a website, without the right to actually sell tickets for the displayed options, there is little economic incentive to do so. The Commission is preparing a legislative proposal on Multi-modal digital mobility services (MDMS), expected for 2023, that aims to facilitate booking and payment of train tickets from different operators, through digital applications (MDMS). It also aims to ensure that travellers consulting a website can see the complete available train offer, both in terms of timetables and in terms of fares, to avoid that websites only show the offers that are commercially interesting for themselves. This should enhance access to offers and the ability for passenger to compare trip options.

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