Rail and aviation set for showdown over 2022 ‘European Year of’ status

News from Brussels

Source: Euractiv, 2021-04-15

Rail associations are calling on the European Commission to extend the current “European Year of Rail” designation to 2022 as the ongoing pandemic has disrupted 2021’s planned activities. But some MEPs argue that 2022 should be the “European Year of Aviation” to support the struggling airline sector.

Railway organisations say that COVID restrictions have made it impossible to celebrate the European Year of Rail to its full extent.

“We can but note that the constraining sanitary context is impeding the full deployment of stakeholders’ activities to promote rail,” states an open letter sent to the leaders of the European Commission, Parliament, and Council.

“We therefore urge you to consider extending this outstanding initiative until December 2022 in order to make it an even greater success at the end.”

The European Year of Rail was officially launched on 29 March with a kick-off event that, due to the pandemic, most speakers attended remotely. The goal of the year is to encourage citizens and businesses to opt for rail over more polluting transport modes like air travel, helping Europe to meet its climate targets under the European Green Deal.

The pandemic has badly affected the rail sector, with rail companies posting multi-billion euro losses in 2020. A foreseen recovery in passenger levels has not materialised in 2021, as strict health measures remain in effect across Europe. 

Signed by industry bodies the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), the European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM), and the European Rail Supply Industry Association (UNIFE), the letter notes that the European rail sector invested heavily to make the year a success, but the uncertainty around organising public events has left their efforts in jeopardy.

“There is a very concrete risk that upcoming scheduled events will have to be postponed until the situation improves or just cancelled, and that the allocated resources will be spent in vain – something we can ill afford at a time when railways are suffering huge losses because of COVID-19,” the letter states.

The rail organisations say that a “bespoke social media campaign” launched by EIM and a year-long communications campaign driven by UNIFE to “showcase the benefits of investments in physical and digital rail infrastructure for the society and the economy” have failed to achieve the results hoped for amid the pandemic.

One of the flagship initiatives of the year, the ‘Connecting Europe Express’ – a train that will journey to cities across Europe to highlight the benefits of travelling by rail – has seen its departure date pushed from June to September.

“Against this background, we call on all the EU Institutions and on Member States to extend the European Year of Rail until December 2022 in order to make the best out of this important opportunity and give this valuable initiative the best chances of success,” the letter closes.


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