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By designating 2021 as the European Year of Rail, the European Commission is seeking to focus attention on the environmental, economic, commercial and cultural benefits of rail, and highlight its role in supporting sustainable mobility.
On March 4, just before Covid-19 brought much of Europe’s international traffic to a standstill, the European Commission officially proposed to declare 2021 as the European Year of Rail. And despite everything that has happened since then, the initiative is still on track. The European Parliament and Council are now entering the last phase of discussions before formally adopting our proposal. And with 2021 rapidly approaching, it is time to start getting ready.
Our initiative has not surprisingly been given a warm welcome by stakeholders within the railway sector, but the real purpose of the European Year of Rail is to promote the mode beyond its usual supporters. We want to celebrate rail, to highlight its potential to make transport more sustainable, and to accelerate much-needed modernisation so that rail wins more passengers and freight customers. We want to see more recognition of the role that rail can play as a tool to link regions. We want people to travel by rail to discover more of the EU. And we want the rail sector to become a more attractive place to work.
A year to celebrate rail
The Commission’s aim when launching every ‘European Year of …’ is to put an important topic in the spotlight, to raise awareness of associated challenges and opportunities, and to encourage debate throughout the European Union. So just as 2018 was all about cultural heritage, 2021 will focus on all aspects of rail.
While the benefits of railways as a sustainable, safe and innovative transport mode are obvious to the rail community, and certainly to me, it is clear this enormous potential is not reflected by rail’s current position in our society, nor our economy as a whole. Rail’s share of passenger land transport is currently less than 8%, although the figure is growing. The market share for freight is twice as large, but despite everyone’s best efforts it has not increased in recent years.
With the European Green Deal putting sustainability at the heart of EU policymaking, and transport today accounting for a quarter of all EU greenhouse gas emissions, rail has a very significant role to play in the coming years, providing cleaner and sustainable mobility.
We are already seeing renewed interest among young travellers, climate-conscious companies and, increasingly, politicians. The European Year of Rail is intended to build on this and create momentum, but we rely very much on the railway community and public authorities at all levels to make the year a success.
Various key players have already been in touch to see how they can get involved, and we are currently looking into a number of potential initiatives during the year. For example, Portugal is planning to host a rail event in the first half of 2021, when it will be holding the EU Presidency.
By dedicating this European Year to rail, we want to encourage Europeans to choose rail more often, and we also want to see EU businesses taking rail into account when planning their everyday operations — for both freight and passenger transport.
Rail connects people and regions all across the EU, and has much to contribute to a future-proof transport system. It is also a major industrial sector, with European suppliers holding a world-leading position. The EU is the rail supply industry’s largest net exporter in the world, and plays a major role in terms of driving innovation in the manufacturing market. Last but not least, rail has been a source of artistic inspiration for many years.
Cross-cutting projects could create new links between tourism, innovation, jobs and skills in a changing world, boosting industrial competitiveness as well as cultural and industrial heritage.
Fig 1. Rail has much to offer in providing safer and more sustainable mobility across Europe for both passenger and freight transport.
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
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