Speech by Stientje van Veldhoven, State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management, at the European Year of Rail Launch Event

‘Accounting for only 0.5 per cent of transport emissions in the EU, rail transport is the cleanest way to travel. As soon as the pandemic is over, we have to be ready to welcome more international rail passengers. And to give them a better European rail network. We’re making progress: never before has improving international passenger transport by rail been as high on the EU agenda as it is now!’ Said State Secretary Van Veldhoven on 29 March at the kick off of the European Year of Rail.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,

First, a bit of historical context.

On 12 February 1872 the first meeting of delegates from European governments and railway organisations took place in Cologne (Germany).

Their most important decision was to use Roman numerals for the hours zero to twelve.
And we’re still benefiting from the decision to standardise timetables today!

That was 149 years ago, the early years of rail transport.
Even then, the need to coordinate Europe’s railways and create cross-border rail connections was clear.
It’s in the DNA of the international rail community. It’s in our DNA.

And here we are: 149 years on. Europe’s rail network is not as easily accessible, well connected and flexible as we’d like. But we’re working on it. And we’re making progress!

Never before has improving international passenger transport by rail been as high on the EU agenda as it is now!

A strong boost came from the signing of the political statement by 27 European countries in June last year.
The ministers stressed the need for a bigger role for international rail passenger transport in order to reduce the transport sector’s climate impact.

The statement also announced the establishment of the Platform on International Rail Passenger Transport.

But that’s not all.

In its 2021 work programme, the European Commission announced an action plan for passenger rail transport – a plan we can expect later this year.

International passenger rail transport is also part of the EU’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. The Commission’s objective is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 for journeys up to 500 kilometres using collective transport. That means striking a new balance between air and rail.

And the Portuguese EU Presidency is putting rail transport in the spotlight.
These are all positive developments in the Year of Rail.

Of course, the current circumstances are still extraordinary. We’re all fighting COVID-19 and taking measures to protect our health and keep the economy moving.

At the same time, we’re fighting climate change and trying to lower our carbon emissions. Improving international rail transport is key to this.

Accounting for only 0.5 (zero point five) per cent of transport emissions in the EU, it’s the cleanest way to travel.
As soon as the pandemic is over, we have to be ready to welcome more international rail passengers. And to give them a better European rail network.

What role does the Platform on International Rail Passenger Transport – the IRP – play in this?
As you may know, the Netherlands and Austria are co-coordinating the Platform this year. I would like to thank Austrian federal minister Leonore Gewessler for the excellent cooperation.

I’d also like to thank Germany’s federal transport minister Andreas Scheuer and Swiss federal councillor Simonetta Sommaruga. Their support for the platform, by leading parts of the work streams, has delivered extensive results.

Also thanks to Transport Commissioner Vălean for the outstanding support provided by your services for this work.

It’s important to me that taking international rail passenger transport to the next level is a shared effort, also at European level. So it’s great to see this happening.

This past half year has shown me that the IRP is a driving force.

Right from the start, there’s been a lot of enthusiasm and willingness to share thoughts and to join forces in the working groups.

All working groups have identified bottlenecks and initial conclusions and recommendations to improve international passenger rail.

Proudly, and with great appreciation for the commitment of so many people, I present to you today the Platform’s first report.

It gives recommendations in four areas:

  1. Customer experience and digitalisation: to boost sales of international rail tickets, we need to accelerate the digitalisation of train ticketing. With the support of third-party ticket vendors, like travel agencies, I’m sure a much wider public would be interested in taking the train for international journeys.
  2. The network of international passenger services: we need to build on the important work done by our German colleagues on the Letter of Intent on the Trans Europe Express 2.0, which encompasses nearly 40 existing and possible new international rail passenger services.
  3. The European Green Deal: let’s make use of the 15 pilot projects announced by the Commission to accelerate the development of new international rail services.
  4. The regulatory framework: we encourage close cooperation between member states on regulating and contracting international rail passenger services and encourage harmonisation of regulatory practices in Europe to lower economic barriers.

I also welcome the great efforts made by the sector organisations to work with the Platform. Their statement will also be published today.

We are fully aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a difficult situation with regard to international rail transport for the business sector.

In their statement the sector expresses its support for the momentum for radical improvement in international passenger rail transport.

In June the Platform will present a more comprehensive report and an action plan.
The action plan will be key to creating an improved overall framework aimed at a seamless customer experience for international train passengers in Europe.

It all started 149 years ago, with the agreement to use Roman numerals for hours on railway timetables.
Right now we’re joining forces to realise a European regular timetable.
So, first the numbers, now the timetable!

Prospects are opening up again. Inspired by the perspective of crossing borders and connecting people by rail.
Let us build on the work that’s been done. Let us deliver on the recommendations. Our citizens deserve it!

Thank you.