EPF representatives were delighted to participate in the twentieth birthday celebrations of the European Railway Agency. Josef Schneider, chair of EPF’s Management Board and a long-serving passengers’ representative on ERA’s Administrative Board, and his EPF colleague, Christopher Irwin, were in Valenciennes, ERA’s hometown, for the occasion.

Celebrations were held at the Cité des Congrès. Senior representatives of the EU institutions, members of the European Parliament, local dignitaries, past and present members of the ERA and key stakeholders from across Europe took part. As a former chair of the Agency’s Administrative Board, of which he was the member representing the passenger sector for ten years from the ERA’s inception in 2004, Chris was called on to join the platform of speakers.

Chris recalled the Administrative Board’s early involvement in the process of choosing the first Executive Director, Marcel Verslype: in Chris’s judgement, when he asked each of the candidates how passengers might benefit should they be selected, Marcel had given the best response. He praised Marcel for the way that he built the diverse and innovative team which characterises the Agency to this day. He noted the Commission’s inclusive and supportive approach to the development of the Administrative Board, this being an essential ingredient of the ERA’s success.

Chris also recalled representing the Administrative Board in the selection process of Marcel’s successor, Josef Doppelbauer. This work was led by Matthias Reute, then the Director General of DG MOVE, to whose personal contribution to the ERA’s success Chris paid tribute. Josef’s decade at the Agency has been distinguished by renewed focus on end-users’ needs and the respect it now commands, even beyond the EU. He was reassured that the current DG, Magda Kopczynska, is similarly committed to her predecessor’s inclusive approach.

Looking to the future, Chris urged the Commission and the Agency to build on the clarion thinking of the Belgian Presidency’s Brussels Declaration of 4. April 2024, particularly its emphasis on facilitating the planning, booking and making of end-to-end journeys, including their continuation and completion in the event of disruption. Making rail more attractive to users is a precondition for becoming the backbone of a sustainable mobility system in Europe.

Chris concluded by noting the funding disparity between the agencies responsible for the different modes. The Green Deal can’t be achieved on the cheap; the ERA is under resourced for its mission.