How can European railway and infrastructure companies improve safety?

European railway and infrastructure companies
© Mariano Mantel

Government Europa Quarterly speaks to Executive Director of CER, Libor Lochman, about his association’s priorities for European railway and infrastructure companies in 2018.

In order to sustain the railways of Europe as some of the safest in the world, European railway and infrastructure companies and operators – along with the policymakers of the European Union – are continually making efforts to retain high standards and ensure that safety requirements across the EU are synergised.

The European Safety Directive was recast in 2016 by the European Parliament and Council for implementation across member states. The directive encompasses four key aims:

  • To establish an authority in each member state, of which are responsible for supervision of rail safety;
  • To establish a system of the single safety certificates issued by the European Union Agency for Railways;
  • To establish common safety indicators (CSIs), in efforts to assess compliance with common safety targets (CSTs) and facilitate the monitoring of performance; and
  • To define a standard practice for safety investigations.

The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) represents the interests of its members at the EU policy level. Through this level of representation, CER facilitate improved regulatory environment for the business of European railway and infrastructure companies across Europe. Government Europa Quarterly speaks to Executive Director of CER, Libor Lochman, about the challenges of Europe’s railways.

What problems are persisting in the rail sector today?

One single way of summing the rail sector up today, and its challenges, is the need to establish methods to increase the competitiveness of rail vis a vis other transport modes, and how to integrate rail, alongside the other transport modes, more efficiently into the mobility chain. That is where we identify a few areas which still require both policy and internal actions.

In the first instance, the focus is on innovation – how to bring the technology of services and the technology for customers on a higher level. This also involves deployment of digital technologies, such as ticketless travel, as well as improving logistics services for freight customers and internal communication amongst the rail sector actors. Thus, on the internal side, we aim to implement technology which is more cost effective, cheaper, and offers higher levels of efficiency.

Second, there are still a number of places which require significant investment into infrastructure and we still have a lot of bottlenecks along the network. We have to provide more capacity for the services, not only for passengers but also freight. We need to improve connectivity towards the east for the future boost of Europe-Asia links. There is a lot more work that still needs to be done in regard to investment and strategies for this.

Recent investments have been made for construction and the Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland, was completed in 2016. This construction contributes greatly to the improvement of rail services north to south, but it is not only new constructions which are aiding improvements to infrastructure. Corridor lines are being significantly upgraded and are complimented by the branch line of connecting networks.

Thirdly, the intermodal regulatory framework is another area of difficulty. That is something which hasn’t been tackled yet by European policymakers and regulators in a proper manner – it requires significant fixes in order to let railways to compete on a level playing field. This may be – at least partly – implemented through the Europe on the Move package, but there are many more fixes required in order to enable railway services to flourish and attract even more customers.

Those are the three significant challenges which we have ahead of us and they must be tackled, alongside the proper implementation of existing EU railway regulation. Without the market opening and harmonisation of the technical means, we will face great difficulties in boosting the system efficiency and making the rail attractive for our customers.

Which technologies are assisting in the improvement of safety on the railway?

We are in a fortunate situation that the railway is the safest land transport mode. Therefore, we have a very good basis, which is obviously based on the evolution of the system over the last 100 years. However, there are always things which can be improved and they are on the side of operating rules, the safety management system and technology.

It is not only about European railway and infrastructure companies implementing the safety management system, as there is already an obligation to do that. We need to intensify the exchange between partners, stakeholders and market actors, on occurrences which may lead to possible incidents.

Technology is obviously concerned with the implementation of more advanced train protection systems and the implementation of electronic control-command and signalling systems along Europe’s rail network. This will significantly improve the safety level of services, whereby a comparable train protection or control system has not been in use so far. The progressive installation of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) is going to significantly improve the level of safety of running trains.

Moreover, we can identify further areas which, with implementation, will underline the whole principle of how the railway is operated. For example:

  • The improved system of maintenance of vehicles; and
  • The certification of the entities in charge of maintenance and maintenance workshops.

Following this, we will have the entire spectrum of companies which will have to be accountable for safety, as well as accepting their own responsibility and liability.

How can technologies such as rail radar positioning and the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) improve mobility across cities by managing traffic on the rails?

Satellite navigation is a component that has been analysed for some years and which now has its place in the shaping the future functionality of the ERTMS. Satellite navigation will bring an alternative means for train localisation, and also the measurement of train speed. This can replace the current technology which is in place. Again, we hope that this will bring savings to the technology side of rail, whilst also increasing precision and throughput of traffic on the railway lines.

What role does CER have in the process of legislation at an EU level? What will be your priorities in 2018?

CER has been involved in the entire process of shaping the EU railway acquis – from regulation drafting by the European Commission, through to the process of negotiations in the European Parliament and the Council, as well as monitoring implementation.

Transportation in general is really moving forward towards negotiations related to the mobility package. To date, two volumes have been published by the commission and a third is expected. However, these two volumes are large enough to engage both the members of the European Parliament and the Council. The package should finally be negotiated, accepted and endorsed later this year, or at the latest, the beginning of 2019. There is a lot of work to be done on this mobility package.

Our priority is in ensuring an intermodal level playing field for all, and there are two aspects:

  • First is the charging for utilisation of infrastructure; and
  • The second is the internalisation of external costs.

In both aspects, we would like to be able to see the railways to offer customers the right benefits with regards to space issues, congestion, infrastructure utilisation, energy efficiency and low emissions. We are the leaders in low-emission mobility.

Libor Lochman
Executive Director
The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER)


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