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Member states are prepared to review the process for the issuing of the necessary authorisation for registering rail vehicles but not at the price of a legal dressing down of national authorities. This is the message that they intend to convey to the European Commission at the Transport Council, to be held in Luxembourg on 10 June. It is hoped also that agreement can be concluded on the new rules for issuing these authorisations, which are part of the technical section of the Union's fourth railway package. The role of the European Railway Agency (ERA) based in Valenciennes, France, will be increased but member states will retain their say in the matter.

According to the Commission, procedures to authorise new rail vehicles can last up to two years and cost up to 6 million. There are still marked discrepancies in the way in which national authorities conduct vehicle authorisation and safety certification processes and some systematically circumvent established periods for issuing certificates and authorisations by requests for additional documentation. The procedure tales longest in Germany, according to one expert.

The Commission's proposal to centralise the system at the ERA is not very popular with member states as it would imply the removal of national authorisations and reduce to practically nothing the role played by national authorities in issuing authorisations. The compromise suggested by the Irish Presidency has them re-instated even though the ERA, in a few years, will be called to act as a single point of contact for the issuing of authorisations.

The compromise establishes a dual system. The ERA will be competent to issue authorisations for vehicles used in cross-border operations, based on assessments carried out by the national authorities. For vehicles used only in national traffic, however, the applicant may choose to request authorisation either from the ERA or from the national safety authority in several national networks based on previous checks carried out by national security authorities. There will thus be a single authorisation at European level with a single certificate to operate in all member states but with preliminary checks of the compatibility between the material used and the railway network performed by national security authorities. For trains and carriages used only nationally, companies are free to choose between authorisation issued by the ERA or a national agency.

A true compromise, half-way between the current system and what the Commission initially wanted. But from the beginning of the debates on this subject it was clear that member states were not prepared to go further. In the Transport Council in March, it was argued frequently that national authorities are best placed to assess the particularities of their sections and that any transfer of competences in terms of certification and authorisation should be approached with prudence.

Industry speaks out on package

In a joint press release, dated 5 June, the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), the Association of the European Rail Industry (UNIFE), the International Union of Wagon Keepers (UIP), the European Passenger Train and Traction Operating Lessors Association (EPTTOLA) and the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) stressed that they needed this reform to improve the competitiveness of the sector. "The overall authorisation process for vehicles in Europe can last longer than two years, immobilising assets worth 1.2 billion euro that are waiting for authorisation and cannot be put in service." They have called for negotiations on this technical issue to be speeded up so that it can be adopted under the current legislature, thereby effectively calling for the fourth railway package to blow up since the negotiations on the political issues - liberalisation, governance - have notyet started and neither will they start under the Lithuanian Presidency. Clearly a deliberate move on the part of the heads of the CER and the UITP, both opposed to the political content of the package.
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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4EULU
Date:Jun 6, 2013

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