" Now, more than ever, is the time to develop the use of rail. It is time to ensure that all regions have modern infrastructure and strong connecting networks. It is time for smarter, more accessible and more user-oriented services. This is the right time for the European Year of Rail. Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reform, at the launch conference of the European Year of Rail on 29 March 2021
On 1 January 2021 the European Year of Rail started. The European Commission's initiative to establish the Year of Rail aims to support the achievement of the transport objectives of the Green Pact for Europe. Several events have therefore taken place since the beginning of the year - and until December 2021 - to promote rail as a sustainable, innovative and safe mode of transport. As Transport Commissioner Adina Valean puts it:
"Rail transport undoubtedly brings many benefits in most areas: sustainability, safety and even speed, when organised and designed with 21st century principles in mind. However, they also have a more fundamental role to play: they connect EU Member States to each other, and not just in physical terms. Building a seamless, functioning network across Europe is a work of political cohesion. The European Year of Rail is not a chance event. It comes at a time when the EU needs this kind of collective project. "
Why a European Year of Rail?
In December 2019, the European Commission set out the Green Deal for Europe, with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. With transport accounting for a quarter of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions, this sector will play a crucial role in achieving climate neutrality by reducing its emissions by 90% by 2050. In this pact, the commission seeks to develop a strategy for sustainable and intelligent transport. The aim is to shift transport to rail rather than other more polluting transport - such as road or aviation. Rail is the most economical and environmentally friendly form of transport, but it is still not used enough. To give you some figures, only 7% of rail journeys in Europe are dedicated to passenger transport and 11% to freight transport. The aim of the European Year of Rail is therefore to highlight this type of transport in order to develop it even further among citizens.
Why did you choose 2021 as the European Year of Rail?
The European Year of Rail seeks to highlight the rail mode of transport as an alternative to less sustainable means of transport (road, aviation). But why choose the year 2021? This year is not insignificant, in fact, here are some of the key dates we will celebrate this year:
- The 20th anniversary of the first railway package
- The 175th anniversary of the very first rail link between two European capitals (Paris-Brussels)
- 40 years of the TGV
- 30 years of the ICE (Inter City Express in Germany)
- Europalia, an international festival that takes place every two years in Belgium to celebrate cultural heritage, has chosen to dedicate its 2021 edition to railways
- 25 years of Thalys
Should the European Year of Rail be extended?
The aim of the "European Years" is to highlight and raise awareness on certain issues in society. These "European Years" normally last for one year, but as the year 2021 was disrupted by the pandemic, the railway organisations have expressed their concerns about the focus of this European Year of Rail. Indeed, several organised events had to be postponed, cancelled or digitised, making the experiences less novel.
In addition, the pandemic undermined the free movement of goods and people. During the health crisis, road and air transport were severely disrupted. While rail freight was the most used means of transport for the exchange of essential goods, people did not have the opportunity to use this means of transport. In 2020, a loss of several billion euros was recorded, while the recovery in 2021 was not as expected because strict sanitary measures remained in force in Europe.
The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), the European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM) and the European Railway Industries Association (UNIFE) have therefore requested an extension of the European Year of Rail to make up for the delay caused by the pandemic. In a letter they state:
" There is a very real risk that future scheduled events will have to be postponed until the situation improves or cancelled altogether, and that the resources allocated will be spent in vain - something we cannot afford at a time when the railways are suffering huge losses due to COVID-19″.
Given that the European Commission's initiative to shed " new light on the benefits of rail as a sustainable, intelligent and safe means of transport " during this European Year of Rail, do you think that this European Year should be extended in order to address the disruption caused by the pandemic?
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