It is impossible to talk about the year 2020 without talking about the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet there is so much more to talk about. We witnessed in 2020 the historic shift in rail policy when on 31st October 2020, the final deadline passed for the transposition of the technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package into national law. In the years to come, railway customers will be able to reap the fruit of what was sown today with more competitive, better interconnected, innovative rail products being placed on a common market. In order to prepare for this new age, the Agency has completed a process of fundamental internal transformation, with many colleagues assuming new roles and tasks.
As we are collectively coming to terms with the impact of a continued COVID-19 crisis on our lives, the best we can do is to cope with the situation in the most responsible manner, while delivering our tasks. At the Agency we continue all activities without interruption. All services remain reachable in remote access. The COVID-19 crisis has also delayed the full transposition of the technical pillar of the 4th Railway Package (4RP). While 16th June 2020 was the target date in our original planning, many Member States chose to use the extension of this deadline until 31st October – therefore, this date has now become the new milestone for the evolution of the European railway legislation. From this date onwards, the new harmonised procedures will finally be applicable across the entire European Union. After having started in June 2019 with initially eight Member States, we are now crossing the finish line.
As 16 June 2020 marks one year anniversary of ERA as the European Authority for cross-border rail traffic in Europe, we interviewed our experts on authorisation, certification and approval to review the work during the first year, provide some advice and share the next expectations. Positive developments have resulted in a closer cooperation between NSAs, applicants, and ERA showing a true European spirit and in the spillover of harmonisation of authorization and certification processes into other technical sub-categories.
First of all I hope you and those close to you are safe and healthy in these demanding times. We feel strong compassion with those who are adversely affected by the current pandemic. We fully support the measures taken by the European Commission and the Member States, while at the same time maintaining our services to the European railway sector. Even though working remotely, our staff is doing the utmost to keep all services running.
2019 is coming to an end. For the EU Agency for Railways it has been a challenging year. Both ERA staff and the European railway sector have gone through a tremendous learning curve, implementing the new EU railway legislation.
100 days into our new role as European authority, our teams have been working hard to deliver efficiency and provide a speedy and comprehensive service for EU-wide vehicle authorisation, safety certification, and ERTMS trackside approval using the One-Stop Shop.
At this milestone, it is a matter close to my heart to express my sincere respect and gratitude to all railway actors that have contributed to this achievement: the representatives of industry and customers, the sector organisations, the NSAs in each member state, the European Commission and our staff in Valenciennes.
Safe – connected – affordable. Do you remember these words? They have guided the SERA Conferences which ERA and the European Commission organised in 2017 to discuss with all railway stakeholders the upcoming changes which the Fourth Railway Package (4RP) will bring.
Already since 2015, the Agency has been preparing the implementation of the technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package. Together with the National Safety Authorities and the representatives of the European rail sector, we have been doing our best to communicate the fundamental change that is coming to the European rail sector with this legal package
Rail safety touches the very essence of our business. We can proudly say that rail is the safest mode of land transport, but the impressive safety record of past decades (largely achieved through technical progress) is overshadowed by singular accidents with often tragic consequences, leaving surviving dependants in terrible grief, and the reputation of the entire European rail system damaged.
The 4th Railway Package is the single most important piece of legislation in the history of European railways – and in 2018, pressure is rising as fundamental change is imminent.For the first time ever, there will be EU-wide vehicle authorisation, safety certification, and ERTMS trackside approval. But we are not there, yet – and time is running fast, and the challenges are steep.