Arriën Kruyt   arrien.kruyt[at]

The January edition of “Der Fahrgast” included an interview with EPF management board member Arriën Kruyt. The original article in German can be consulted here. Since the spring of 2020, the Corona pandemic has led to a drastic decline in the use of public transport. Nonetheless, in European policy and in many regions there are plans to promote the use of public transport. Experience shows that investments in public transport require long lead times. Therefore it is good that these plans are being advanced and concretised. The good news is also that these plans are being developed at European level and, if possible, coordinated there. The importance of EPF as a spokesperson for passengers throughout Europe should not be underestimated.

The improvement of cross-border public transport is much more complicated and more expensive than improving national public transport. For example, every Thalys passenger knows from experience that this train, which can travel 300km/h between Antwerp and Brussels is in reality not quite fast. The reason is that the Belgian government does not want to invest in a high-speed line between Brussels and Antwerp. Other complicating factors are country-specific safety systems, rail tolls, country-specific regulations and and safety rules.

Cross-border rail transport is on average 50 per cent more expensive than domestic rail transport. High prices for cross-border rail journeys deter potential passengers from using the railways. In addition, those wishing to travel will find that it is difficult to buy a ticket for a complicated destination. If international rail transport is to compete with air travel, there will have to be significant improvements in timetable information and booking. For EPF, this is a top priority.

To combat climate change, the European Union has signed a “Green Deal” under the leadership of the Dutch Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, who has been very clear about his goal for for transport. The aim is to drive less by car, fly less and travel more by train instead. The European Commission has made available substantial funds for this. The European Commission is thinking high-speed lines and night trains as an alternative to flying. The European Court of Auditors has already pointed out that Europe does not have a coherent high high-speed rail network.

The European Commission has the right of initiative and carries out the implementation. The European Parliament does what all parliaments do: It supervises and draws up budgets. In the European Council of Ministers all governments are represented by their own ministers. In the case of public transport, these are the ministers in whose competence this falls. In practice, consensus is required between between these three European institutions to get anything going. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management has taken the initiative to cooperate with ministries in other EU countries in the field of international rail transport. The presidency is shared with Austria, which traditionally has good contacts in Central and Eastern Europe. EPF is involved in this multi-annual project. We consider it is very important that this initiative is successful, because it will allow the Council of Ministers to have the same ambition as the European Commission.

The German government has presented the TEE 2.0 plan in 2020. TEE 2.0 offers a European network of day and night trains. The frequency and changes should be connected to the so-called Deutschlandtakt (German timetable), which should make every station within Germany accessible every hour. On a European level, this would be an unprecedented improvement. For example, from Amsterdam to the Ruhr area there would not be seven ICE trains per day at irregular intervals, but one train per hour. The German government is pragmatic and is aware of the need for bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries. This is a unique opportunity for Rover and the German colleagues of the passenger association PRO BAHN and Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD) to work together.

To highlight all these developments and to draw the public’s attention to them the European Union has declared 2021 as the European Year of Rail. Because of Covid-19, not much has been done in the first months, but no doubt this will change in the second half of the year.