At the beginning of May, the European transport system entered a new era of the White Paper on Transport 2011. Its ambitious plans and combination between the medium and long-term vision represent both continuity from the previous, more pragmatic document and the present one, as well a step forward towards the reorganisation of the transport system, in terms of better passenger and freight services, pollution reduction and development of a sustainable society.
The current policies of companies which transfer production to countries in the Far East represent business opportunities for the transport community, as well as a heads-up in terms of raising awareness around the reduction of chemical and noise pollution which, inherently, accompany the transport activity.
The clear and concise urge to choose instead of a polluting transport system, such as road transport, a green system, such as rail transport, is stipulated in the above mentioned document. Considering the evolution of railway technologies, like ETCS/ERTMS, another objective stipulated by the European Commission becomes possible: the development of a Single European Railway Market. Without fulfilling this objective, the transfer between road and rail transport is almost impossible. The role of the government and rail infrastructure managers is key in providing an alternative to road transport. The transition from a “national” atomized society to a unified European society involves a trans-national journey. Reducing the travel time, increasing reliability and performance, there are only a few aspects which have to be taken into consideration if we really want a reliable transport solution.
The technical harmonisation of railway networks, together with eliminating bureaucracy and technical barriers, represent the steps that need to be taken by infrastructure managers in order to be able to provide a truly European network. Priority programs should be developed for the railway networks located at the border of European countries – which are perceived as a shield in case of a possible military invasion; these sections are not electrified and they are not included in the priority modernisation projects (they are not included on the European corridor map). The harmonisation of safety systems represents another step in this direction – the philosophical discussions around the use of ETCS should remain history. Similar to the harmonisation of signalling systems, another measure should be taken to harmonise the infrastructure construction principles. Even though this is a more complicated and less attractive subject, it is equally important: it represents the principle based on which a train is accepted on a “national” network.
A common European vision in terms of financing and investing in the rail infrastructure represents the first step towards the development of a Single Market. Without harmonising the software and hardware elements of the railway system, the Schengen Area will remain only an enemy of rail transport.
by Ştefan Roşeanu