Following the European Commission's legislative proposal, the CoR adopted its opinion on "The European Year of Rail 2021" (rapporteur Jarosław Stawiarski (PL/ECR)) in October 2020. The final version of the Decision adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, published in the Official Journal on 28 December 2020, is significantly more detailed than the initial Commission proposal in terms of the scope and objectives of the EYR, and also formulates a series of specific requests for the Commission. A number of the recommendations set out in the CoR opinion are reflected in the final version of the Decision, as follows (cf. also detailed references below):
In addition to reinforced references to the role of the local and regional level, the final text of the EYR Decision has been reinforced with regard to the link between rail connectivity and social, economic and territorial cohesion, notably for rural, peripheral and mountainous regions; it also highlights the need to modernise or reinstate regional and suburban rail lines and to complete missing links in border regions in particular. It addresses the need for a new discussion on the modernisation of rolling stock, improving cooperation on infrastructure capacity and promoting digitalisation of rail and integrated ticketing systems. It specifically refers to the need to develop door-to-door transport services and improved intermodal facilities in both the passenger and freight sectors.
On employment in the rail sector, the final text includes several references calling for promotional measures to improve the attractiveness of rail professions and to diversify the workforce. It also acknowledges the significant contribution of the rail industry to the EU economy and the importance of maintaining global competitiveness in this sector.
The final text also refers more prominently to the objective of increasing public awareness of the potential role of rail in sustainable tourism and calls for the development of a night-train network across the Union. It refers to the important role played by the rail sector in ensuring transport continuity during the COVID crisis and to the need to rebuild customer trust in the aftermath of the pandemic, notably in the passenger sector. It further highlights the cultural dimension of rail, as both a vector of European prosperity and of technical innovation, and refers specifically to the potential of railway stations as vectors of culture and civic life.
The support of the CoR was requested by DG MOVE in ensuring broad regional participation in the official programme of EYR events. Following a joint letter circulated by the CoR President and the COTER Chair to this end in November 2020, more than 70 event proposals were submitted by the local and regional level for consideration by DG MOVE. Once approved by DG MOVE these events appear on the dedicated EYR 2021 website.
In addition to reinforced reference to the role of the local and regional level (recital 8, Article 2 (c) ) in the final text of the Decision, the following aspects have been included or reinforced, as set out in the CoR opinion:
recital 8- on the link between rail connectivity and cohesion, reinforced drafting on the connectivity of rural, peripheral and mountainous regions and on the need to modernise or reinstate missing rail links (also Article 2 (b))
recital 9 : more proportionate drafting on rail noise, as called for in the CoR opinion
-recital 13 – importance of modernising under-used regional and suburban lines for ecological impact and economic cohesion
recital 15 – need to diversify rail sector workforce and for promotional measures to improve attractiveness of rail professions (also Article 2 (a)(iii), Article 2 (e) );
Article 2 (c ) –recognition of the role of global competitiveness of the EU rail sector for the EU industry/economy
-Article 2 (e) – reinforced references to rail and history, cultural heritage and innovation
-Article 2 (f) – EU night train network as an official objective of the EYR
Article 2 (i ) - increasing public awareness of the role of rail in sustainable tourism
Art 2 ( j) need for end-to-end solutions, intermodal hubs (also Article 3(1) (i))
Art 2 (l ) modernisation of rolling stock, increasing infrastructure capacity and improving cooperation between infrastructure managers (cf. also drafting on digitalisation (Article 2 (i) (k))
Art. 3 (1) (a) -improving image of rail post-COVID, health & safety
-Art 3 (1) (h) – on the need for a level playing field between the transport modes and the objective of collecting existing best practices
Annex – Partnerships & events - use of stations as vectors of culture and civic life
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- welcomes the proposed 2021 European Year of Rail and calls for the participation of the CoR in the coordination meetings to be convened regularly by the European Commission;
- encourages regional and national authorities to draw up long-term transport plans with a leading role for rail, where appropriate, and points to the need to promote rail as a key element in addressing the issue of the transport exclusion of outlying and/or less developed regions;
- in view of the financial challenges facing the rail sector, calls for a relaxation of cohesion rules so as to allow for a vital increase in funding to support rail investments under the ERDF and the Cohesion Fund. Also calls for an increase in the budget for the CEF in support of the green transition;
- recommends that consideration be given to a long-term EU financing mechanism for sustainable transport, using resources from less environmentally friendly modes of transport, in line with the polluter pays principle;
- stresses that investments in rail freight corridors and transhipment terminals help improve the EU's territorial cohesion, development of trade with third countries, economic growth and employment; calls on the EU institutions to opt for a broader approach to supporting and developing secondary rail networks and to adapt the support instruments accordingly;
- calls on the rail sector and the Member States to extend services offered by night trains and car-carrying trains and on the European Commission to set up a coherent European high-speed rail network;
- calls for increased support for R&D and innovation in the rail sector, including through further measures under the Horizon Europe programme;
- encourages rail to increase its contribution to sustainable tourism; proposes a joint initiative with the European Commission to expand the #DiscoverEU programme by linking it to a programme of events in cities and regions, including the role of railway stations;
- encourages measures to promote employment opportunities in the rail sector, including education and training in rail-related careers during the European Year.