CZ/SK verze

"Wherever High-Speed Rails Were Implemented, It's Been a Great Success," Says Alberto Mazzola, CER Executive Director

&quote;Wherever High-Speed Rails Were Implemented, It's Been a Great Success,&quote; Says Alberto Mazzola, CER Executive Director
photo: RAILTARGET/Alberto Mazzola
17 / 06 / 2024

RAILTARGET presents an exclusive interview with Alberto Mazzola, CER Executive Director, conducted at the ŽESNAD conference for railway freight carriers in Špindlerův Mlýn, Czech Republic. As European nations continue to embrace and expand high-speed rail infrastructure, Mazzola shares his enthusiastic views on the transformative impact these developments have had across the continent and discusses the critical role of high-speed rail in enhancing European connectivity and identity.

Mister Mazzola, it's a pleasure to welcome you here in Špindlerův Mlýn in the Czech Republic. I would like to ask you about the topic of high-speed railway lines in the Czech Republic because it's a huge project for us. What do you think about this project and the situation here?

In my opinion, this is a very good project. Wherever high-speed rails were implemented, it's been a great success in all countries and changed the image of railways there. It provides an image of a very advanced service for people, and what I noticed is there are more requests. As soon as a country starts launching high-speed lines, you see that people, and not only people but regional presidents as well, are asking to get more. I think it's a very positive success. We at the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies fully support high-speed lines connecting all the capitals and major cities of Europe. We think this is a major project for Europe and very positive for railways and European identity. We've also prepared a report recently that the former Italian Prime Minister presented to the Council of Prime Ministers in Europe concerning the development of the single market and the first point he raised, he said, "I want to travel high-speed around Europe, and I can only travel from Paris to Brussels, and I had to fly for the rest of the trip." And he's pleading to develop this. It is important for the European single market, so the Czech Republic should be part of it.

And do you feel there's a place for economic support from the European Union side for the project of high-speed railways in the Czech Republic?

There will be support coming from the Connecting Europe Facility, but let me say, in my opinion, it will not be enough. I understand that the Czech Republic will need the structure of funds shortly. Let's see how much you can use from what you have today in the leftovers. If there's an investment program in Europe, I hope there will be an investment fund I think you could have.

High-speed railways mean a new era of connectivity in Europe. From my point of view, it's also important that there's some place for cooperation between Czech's Railway Administration and companies from other states, e.g., Poland and Spain, since they're meeting at some railway forums and finding the best solutions for the Czech high-speed rail lines. Do you feel that there's also a place for the new connectivity in the business sphere, which is connected to the development of this project?

On the infrastructure side, it's much easier. We need to have this, I would say, relationship and connection among infrastructure managers because we must work everywhere in Europe. They need to be connected. But on the railway undertaking and service side, you will have cooperation and competition. However, we definitely need to see also more cooperation on the international level. Let's imagine we have high-speed railways everywhere in Europe. We need to run trains and cooperate with these trains. Not everybody will be able to run everywhere, so we need to take into account that companies will also need to cooperate.

One month ago, CER presented the Rail Manifesto. What are the main points of this document, and what do you expect, let's say, from the new European Parliament?

Our document starts from the point that there is more demand for railways, and railways are offering an opportunity for Europe. There are four major points. One point is the level playing field. What we are saying is that we need to treat all the modes in the same way. If railways need to pay charges to run on the tracks, road transport should pay for running on the road. Otherwise, you should cancel the track charges for railways. If we pay VAT for our tickets, you should also do it in aviation. I think it is important that everybody stays on the same level and then the best mode will win. It is the first point. We feel that this is not the case today, just to be clear. Another important point is funding and financing. We need a lot of infrastructure, in particular, high-speed rail freight connections to ports. We also need connections with the airports and the sea. In the past 30 years, infrastructure investments haven't been enough. There's been a lot of investments in roads and motorways but very few in railways. We need to reflect on this funding. We are also reflecting on how to attract private investors for certain activities. The third point is digitalization. We would like to go fully digitalized, ERTMS should become a success and implemented everywhere in a short time, and the investments should be protected and remain for a certain time. The fourth point is competition and cooperation. We are in favor of competition, but we think we also need a bit of cooperation. I gave you an example of high-speed railways, if you don't run everywhere, you need to cooperate with others. We made an agreement on CER ticketing and a roadmap. We will be able to sell tickets everywhere, but we will need to cooperate for that. For example, if you miss a train, you need to take a train from another company and be protected, so we developed an agreement on journey continuation. We need to find a proper balance between competition and cooperation. Sometimes cooperation is considered not positive for the future, but we think we need both. These are the four aspects of the Rail Manifesto.

And what do you expect from the new European Parliament, in this case, from the railway strategical point of view?

I hope, for instance, let's take digitalization. We need some real progress so we have a proper governess, an agency, or a director dealing with this. We are able to collect or monitor the investment at the European and national levels. So, as for digitalization, we need a big change compared to what we have today. We're preparing a plan for the next 20-25 years for high-speed rail to connect the whole of Europe. It's also money, but if you divide the amount among the European countries, you will get figures that are accessible. We would like this to be considered, and this is our way to go to Green Deal. People love to travel at high speeds because it means less duration and more comfort, and we need to have competitive prices. So, we want to have the support on these four pillars I mentioned and to get concrete.

What about the CER's plans for the rest of the current year?

We want to present our manifesto to the new members of Parliament. We will organize an event in Brussels with them. We understand that all ministers and councils of ministers in Europe will discuss the elector reports from different points. We understand that all ministers, all Council of Ministers in Europe, will discuss the report covering different points for transport. We have some points concerning railways, which are very important, of course. This report also deals with the Capital Market Union, how to bring together the Stock Exchange, how to have a single market in finance, and how to keep the money in Europe and prevent it from leaving Europe. It's estimated that about EUR 300 billion leaves Europe for the US every year. With this amount, you could build all the high-speed rail lines in Europe in two years. So there is a lot of money leaving Europe. The good point is that it discusses how to connect the European financial market and the need for investment for the Green Deal. I hope these contacts are created, and we would like to see them. It will be important for our investment.