Local and regional leaders highlight the potential of the rail sector for the EU Green Deal and other key EU policy priorities
The potential of the rail sector in delivering EU policy priorities is the main topic and title of the opinion adopted by the members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) during their December plenary session. Pascal Mangin (FR/EPP), Regional Councillor of Grand Est, highlights in his opinion ways to make the transport sector greener by making better use of rail and how rail can contribute to greater economic and social cohesion in Europe's regions.
The new Commission has placed decarbonisation and climate-change mitigation at the very top of its political priorities as part of the "European Green Deal". The transport sector as a whole is responsible for about 27% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. The rail sector has one of the lowest emission rates of all transport modes and is also the only sector whose overall emissions are in decline, despite increasing transport volumes. Regional and local rail lines in particular have the potential to serve not only decarbonisation and climate change mitigation but also to support other overarching EU policy priorities.
"Trains offer a good combination of speed, safety, comfort, efficiency and environmental performance. Yet rail still only accounts for 12% of freight transport (road 50%) and less than 10% of passenger transport. One big issue is that connectivity is not evenly distributed across EU regions – even though secondary regional lines are very important for connecting the main transport routes with the EU's rural areas and peripheral regions and territories. Providing the necessary infrastructure will not only connect cities, peri-urban regions and rural areas better it will also reduce the economic and social disparities between them, strengthen the internal market and improve the free movement of people and goods", said Pascal Mangin (FR/EPP), rapporteur on "the potential of the rail sector in delivering EU policy priorities".
To make the modal shift happen a number of strategic measures could be activated at EU level in the context of the European Green Deal (polluter pays principle, more balanced charging systems, investment in digitalisation, etc.). In parallel, the rail sector must commit to further enhancing the reliability, comfort and affordability of trains for passengers and freight. Together the rail sector and the EU's public authorities should also reflect on how best to meet the growing demand for a renewal of night trains in the EU as citizens increasingly seek more climate-conscious solutions for long-distance travel in Europe. Local and regional authorities have an important role to play in driving discussions with both public and private operators concerning funding and solutions offering a real alternative to more polluting transport modes at affordable prices.
"The rail sector needs to invest in digitalisation, cybersecurity and door-to-door services addressing last-mile bottlenecks and we need to support them financially as well as with the legislation to incentivise the modal shift to low emission transport forms. Examples include the "internalisation of external costs" such as pollution by applying the polluter pays principle, a review of the current VAT exemptions which are applied to certain forms of cross-border transport but not to rail and the possibility of a general block exemption for investment in intermodal logistics platforms", said rapporteur Mangin.
He also called for acknowledgement of the special role of passenger stations as cultural platforms. "Passenger stations are important vectors of culture with an extensive outreach. Particularly in medium-sized towns and cities stations are an often untapped resource as alternative cultural venues to museums or festivals", said Mr Mangin. He also suggests lifting the popular #DiscoverEU programme and Interrail trips to the next level with a dedicated programme of events in Europe's cities and regions focusing on local train stations.
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