MEPs back new rules to boost rail travel

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Public contracts to supply domestic passenger rail services in EU countries will normally have to be put out to tender under new rules backed by Parliament on Wednesday. These rules also aim to boost investment and the development of new commercial services.

Under the new rules, rail companies will be able to offer their services in EU domestic passenger rail markets in two ways.

First, in cases where national authorities award public service contracts to provide passenger rail services, bidding for public service contracts open to all EU rail operators should gradually become the standard procedure for selecting service providers.

These contracts, which member states use to provide public passenger transport, account for about two thirds of passenger rail services in the EU. Inviting companies to bid for them should sharpen their customer focus and save costs for the taxpayer.

National authorities will also retain the right to award contracts directly, without bidding, but if this method is used it must offer improvements for passengers or cost efficiency gains.

  • Contracts awarded directly would have to include performance requirements (e.g. punctuality and frequency of services, quality of rolling stock and transport capacity).
  • Direct award would be allowed for public service contracts below a certain average annual value or for annual provision of public passenger transport services by rail (€7.5 million or 500,000 km).

Second, any rail company will be able to offer competing commercial services on EU passenger rail markets.

However, to ensure that services which member states want to be supplied under public service contracts continue, member states could restrict a new operator’s right of access to certain lines. An objective economic analysis by the national regulator would be needed to determine when open access can be limited.

Potential conflicts of interest would have to be assessed to ensure that infrastructure managers operate impartially, so that all operators have equal access to tracks and stations.

Public service operators would have to comply with social and labour law obligations established by EU law, national law or collective agreements, says the text

Entry into force

Rail companies will be able to offer new commercial services on domestic lines from 14 December 2020. Competitive tendering is to become the general rule for new public service contracts from December 2023, with some exceptions.

EU Bank supports the modernisation of Moldova’s railways with 50 million EUR

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The European Investment Bank (EIB) is lending EUR 50m to the Republic of Moldova to finance the improvement and modernisation of Moldova’s railway network and rolling stock. The project has received a 5 million EUR investment grant from the European Union, and is co-financed with the EBRD. This is the first time EIB financing has been granted to the Moldovan railways sector, and will upgrade assets partially located on the extended TEN-T and contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the EU-Moldova Association Agreement.

EIB, EU and EBRD funds will help to foster trade both in Moldova and between Moldova and its trading partners in the EU and Eastern Neighbourhood region. The EIB loan will contribute to enhancing the competitiveness of local products and generating efficiencies, potentially increasing exports. This project is part of a broader programme which also includes the restructuring of the Moldovan railway sector in order to enable it to provide adequate services and to compete with other modes of transport.

The EIB support provided to the railway sector will have a positive environmental impact by preventing modal shift from rail to road, and by reducing pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions and noise levels. It will increase passenger safety and operational speed, and reduce vehicle and infrastructure operating costs, which will lead to an improvement in the financial sustainability of Moldova’s national railway company (CFM), the final beneficiary of the EIB loan.

The project consists of two components: the acquisition of mainline diesel locomotives and the associated maintenance equipment and the rehabilitation of selected sections of the railway infrastructure. The new locomotives will replace their obsolete predecessors and the railway infrastructure rehabilitation will be carried out on sections whose renewal is long overdue.

ESA in partnership with Europe’s railways

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Europe’s railway network plays a vital role in keeping our continent on the move. A new ESA initiative is considering the ways that space can add value to the network as it enters its third century of operations.

Space4Rail aims to support the railway community by raising awareness of the added value that space systems can deliver, and highlighting ESA funding programmes with the potential to support their use.

Plenty of work has already been done through these programmes, including the use of satellite navigation both to monitor trains and check the integrity of rail infrastructure, provide broadband to train passengers via satellite and harness Earth-observing satellite data to help predict landslides or subsidence.

Space technologies offer multiple means of boosting the capacity, safety and competitiveness of the rail network – and ESA, as a research and development agency, has various programmes dedicated to supporting such activities.

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Deimos system to track train arrivals, now installed at more than 400 train stations in Spain.

As it can sometimes be difficult for potential partners to find their way around the ESA organisation, Space4Rail has been set up as a one-stop shop for the rail industry to learn about the Agency and submit proposals for partnerships in a simple, streamlined way.

ESA can offer financial and technical support to projects – including access to its specialists and Agency laboratories – while acting as a broker between the space industry, the railway industry and service providers.

ESA is already contributing to the Next Generation Train Control (NGTC) project through a satellite expert group, providing technical expertise on integrating satnav into future railway signalling systems.

Coordinated by the European rail manufacturing industry association UNIFE and supported through the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme, NGTC is a consortium made up of all the main rail system signalling suppliers, together with mainline operators and infrastructure managers as well as urban rail operators.

For more information on ESA’s work with the railway industry, check the Space4Rail website here.