After years of negotiations, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have finally agreed on reforms to Europe's railway network so that there will be no more technical differences between EU member states and passengers will be able to travel between different European cities with a single ticket.
The fourth Railway Package has two pillars, one technical and one political. The European Parliament voted on the technical pillar today and on the political pillar by the end of the year.
MEP Inés Ayala, the S&D spokesperson on the technical pillar, said:
"Unlike air companies or road transport, the European railway system is still fragmented due to the lack of cross-border interoperability and the multiplicity of national standards. This makes it more difficult for passengers and freight services to plan journeys and it also makes it more expensive, because each company needs to apply for certification in several countries, which is a very long and costly process. All this will change with the new measures to be voted on today.
"We will also improve safety standards by starting a safety culture system similar to the one that already exists for aviation: train drivers and crews who perform safety-related tasks will be able to report any potential risks confidentially. The S&Ds have also called for national agencies to establish emergency plans for accidents."
MEP David Sassoli, the S&D rapporteur on the governance report of the political pillar, said:
"This reform was overdue. Today we conclude a process we started ten years ago, but we're already 20 years behind compared to the liberalisation of the European aviation market. It will bring stability to the sector in the future and help improve its competitiveness.
"It will also bring more transparency by avoiding the use of public funds for commercial activities, while ensuring that public sector obligations will be respected for lines which are not profitable but are in the public interest, particularly in rural areas."
MEP Ismail Ertug, the S&D spokesperson on transport, added:
"Despite the good progress we have achieved in the technical pillar and the governance report, we are still concerned about the social rights of workers in the railway sector. Even though the European Commission claims that the status quo has been preserved for social rights in the public service obligation (PSO) regulation that was negotiated, this is simply not enough when in reality we have even more liberalisation of markets in the EU than before.
"The mandatory transfer of staff remains a priority for us and we will continue to fight for higher social standards. Within the next few weeks the European Commission intends to show how workers' rights have been maintained in the political pillar to be voted on later this year. The S&Ds will look carefully into this and will then assess whether the social dimension has been taken on board sufficiently."