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The member states should invest in the DAC, says Kristian Schmidt, Director for Land Transport at the EC

The member states should invest in the DAC, says Kristian Schmidt, Director for Land Transport at the EC
photo: RAILTARGET/The member states should invest in the DAC, says Kristian Schmidt, Director for Land Transport at the EC
08 / 12 / 2022

RAILTARGET presents you with yet another interview from the most prominent event of the railway sector in 2022, InnoTrans. Kristian Schmidt, Director for Land Transport at the European Commission, talked about the importance of the railway cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union and shared his views on how the DAC funding should be carried out.

I would love to ask you how you are enjoying InnoTrans and what your schedule here is.

First of all, it is my first time at InnoTrans, so I am discovering. It is a big event, and it hasn't been up for four years, so, of course, people are keen to come back. It's very fitting that my first meeting here is a Ukrainian solidarity breakfast because we really need to mark Ukraine's struggle and its entry into the European rail family. So that is my first point. But I will also, of course, be meeting with the rail supply industry. We will be talking about the legislation that the European Commission is preparing to make railways more efficient. So I look forward to some very full days.

What do you think are the next most important steps in the field of railway cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union?

The first emergency was getting people to safety, and Ukrainian Railways together with European Railways, who stood up and volunteered, have secured about four million people crossing the borders into the European Union and now on temporary protection. It is an amazing achievement. But, of course, immediately, one step was done, it was about securing Ukraine's grain exports not just to Europe, not just for the benefit of revenues for the Ukrainian economy, but also because this is the second largest exporter to the world market, so the global famine was at risk a couple of months ago. We think this has been addressed effectively, and it's a miracle, really, because Ukraine's grain export always went across the Black Sea, and those ports, of course, due to the Russian aggression, were blocked. Now they are open, but we don't know how much we can trust the Russians on this. Therefore, the European Union, together with Ukraine, has put in place the Solidarity Lanes, and the volume of grain has doubled from April to August, not just for grain but for other important goods coming in and out of Ukraine. It is important to keep the economy running and for Ukraine not to become relying on loans and support from the West but to stand on its own feet. So it is something that, I think, Europe and Ukraine can be very proud of.

The war in Ukraine has clearly shown that railways are the critical infrastructure of any state. Will rail transport stand out in the competition with road transport in the future?

Yes, I think so, and Ukraine is a rail superpower. If you look at the network, its capacity, and the role that Ukrainian railways already play in the Ukrainian economy. The rail freight share in Ukraine is 60%, and in Europe, it makes 18%. Eighteen compared to sixty per cent. It shows that Ukraine is actually ahead of us in terms of moving by rail. So I hope Ukraine will exit to European Union as soon as possible and help us lift the average. And clearly, we are redrawing the maps. When we look at the European TEN-T network, after the 24th of February, we looked at those maps and then we changed them and drew new lines supporting and connecting Ukraine to Europe. We have lots of work ahead of us but we feel like we have partners in Ukraine who are really committed to integrating into the European railway system.

Digital Automatic Coupling is a big topic. How do you see it in 2030? Is the European Union preparing subsidies for carriers to implement this technology?

First of all, we should have had Digital Automatic Coupling decades ago. It is not a brand-new technology. It is time for us to harmonize and implement DAC. Of course, we need to agree on common specifications for the European railway. I can see our research program, Europe's Rail is working day and night on that. So we hope to have those next year, and then there's really no excuse. We predict this will be a huge boost in the efficiency of European rail freight. I cover both road and rail, so I am trying to stay neutral, but of course, for the climate, we need to see a shift to rail, and the DAC is certainly absolutely critical in order to do this. We will support the research with funding for making the business case, but it is something the member states will have to invest themselves – the infrastructure managers, the operators – in what will be a boost for their competitiveness. So they should not wait for the EU funding to go ahead and prepare that.