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Rail Manifesto: The Digital Revolution and Competitive Evolution in European Railways

Rail Manifesto: The Digital Revolution and Competitive Evolution in European Railways
photo: UIC / Public domain/Digital Automatic Coupler
06 / 05 / 2024

As part of our ongoing exclusive coverage, RAILTARGET delves into the third and fourth pillars of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies' (CER) manifesto, "On Track for Europe." These sections of the manifesto highlight critical strategies aimed at transforming the European rail sector through digital innovation and a revamped competition policy, aligning closely with the EU's broader climate and sustainability goals.

Third Pillar: The Digitalization of European Rail

CER's manifesto emphasizes the urgent need to make use of digital technologies to enhance the efficiency and service quality of Europe's railways. Key technologies like the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), Digital Automatic Coupling (DAC), and Digital Capacity Management (DCM) are at the forefront of this transformation.

It's clear that CER advocates for a swift and comprehensive digitalization of rail services. This includes making it easier for passengers across Europe to plan and book their journeys using sustainable transport options, thereby promoting integrated service offerings. The proposed European Mobility Data Space is set to facilitate the exchange of data across the mobility sector under strict guidelines that ensure fairness, data protection, and avoidance of market distortions.

The manifesto also calls for centralized EU governance to coordinate the deployment of crucial digital infrastructures like ERTMS and DAC. Despite progress, the rollout of ERTMS has been uneven across Member States, with only a small portion of the network currently equipped with these advanced systems. The manifesto criticizes the slow implementation and calls for stronger EU-level oversight to ensure synchronized deployment and integration across countries.

DAC, a technology aimed at automating the coupling process in freight trains, is highlighted as a critical innovation that can significantly enhance rail freight efficiency. CER proposes a six-year plan, starting with the launch of 100 "DAC Pioneer Trains" to accelerate the adoption of this technology. The estimated cost for this project stands at EUR 210 million, with a broader need for EUR 13 billion in investments from 2028 to 2033 to complete the DAC transition.

Meanwhile, DCM is envisioned as a transformative approach to managing rail infrastructure capacity. By leveraging advanced data analytics, DCM can optimize train scheduling, reduce bottlenecks, and increase the overall capacity of existing rail networks at a fraction of the cost of building new infrastructure. CER estimates that implementing DCM across European railways would require an investment of EUR 675 million but could deliver substantial efficiency gains.

Fourth Pillar: Compatible Competition Policy

The manifesto states that EU competition policy must evolve to better support the Green Deal's modal shift objectives. While the market has been liberalized through the Fourth Railway Package, significant barriers still delay the entry of new players, especially in capital-intensive areas like rolling stock acquisition.

CER stresses the need for competition policies that not only foster market efficiency and innovation but also align with the EU's environmental goals. This includes safeguarding against any regulatory decisions that might inadvertently promote a shift towards more polluting transport modes. Moreover, CER advocates for policy frameworks that recognize the unique challenges of rail segments that are not economically viable yet essential for achieving a modal shift, such as single-wagon freight services.

As we continue our series, we will further explore how these ambitious strategies are set to reshape the European rail landscape, driving innovation and sustainability in equal measure. Stay tuned with RAILTARGET for further insights.