Trains were born in Europe. This European Year of the Railways should be an opportunity to make rail transport the major player in clean European mobility, even though its overall share of the various modes of transport has become relatively low. The railways do not have a problem with decarbonisation but with attractiveness.
Strengthening this attractiveness requires, at the European level, improving the conditions of equality with other modes of transport according to the polluter-pays principle. This also requires significant public investment, which the European recovery plan should facilitate. Making railways a major provider of mobility and logistics also requires that it be able to operate within a single European framework and that the digitalisation of the sector be accelerated, particularly in terms of rail signaling and traffic management. Europe’s major role in the railway industry must be protected against unfair competition from the rest of the world. Finally, the railways must be attractive to users, in particular through better interconnections and the ongoing revival of night trains. The extension of the dedicated infrastructure should contribute to this, making these network corridors our European “silk road”. The ambition is also to build a more crisis-resilient European rail network in order to avoid disruptions in freight supply chains.
A European Year will not be enough to bring about major upheaval. However, if taken seriously, 2021 could become the year to launch key actions for the renaissance of rail in Europe as a major player in the transport network.