According to Mr Josef Doppelbauer, executive director of the ERA, Europe's railways suffer from a number of problems. Costs, both in terms of the cost/km and the price of a ticket, are too high compared with bus and air. Quality is often lacklustre with many railways suffering from poor customer satisfaction. These deficiencies result in a low overall market share for rail in Europe: passenger operators currently have a 6-7% market share which has been declining for the past 15 years, while railfreight has a 17-18% market share, which is stable if not declining.
"The railway sector has an innovation problem," Doppelbauer says. "Autonomous driving poses a real threat to rail. We must understand the situation we are in and take action."
This is background for the European Union's Fourth Railway Package, and its technical and market pillars, which supporters hope will help to revive rail transport and finally create a single market for rail in Europe.
Doppelbauer firmly believes that it will make real progress in 2016. "We will have the final vote on the Technical and Market pillars and the entry into force of the Technical Pillar," he told IRJ. "Immediately following this, a number of activities at ERA will begin. We will change our name to the EU Agency for Railways although we will retain the ERA trademark. According to the law, we must establish a one-stop shop within a year, which will be an IT portal for safety and vehicle certification.
"We started last year with the first concepts and mock-ups because the first version of the one-stop shop must be ready before the system comes into effect. If the Technical Pillar comes into force in 2016, the one-stop shop must be completed by 2018 so that the new authorisation system can start in 2019. This will be challenging, but I believe it is feasible to develop the IT tool on time and with the right quality.
"We also have to make a proposal to the European Commission (EC) on the fees and charges that will be levied for obtaining a safety or vehicle certificate. The intention is that we become partially self-funding."
ERA, which currently employs 165 people, will need to expand its labour force to cope with the additional tasks. "We need to start recruiting more people in 2017," Doppelbauer explains. "The projection for 2019 is that we should increase our workforce by up to 42 staff, which is a 25% increase. We also want to create a European pool of experts which can be tapped into on a project-by-project basis."
One of the problems which needs to be addressed is the decline of cross-border passenger services in Europe. Doppelbauer says the Market Pillar of the Fourth Railway Package will be another contribution to the single railway market and will have a positive effect of cross-border services, which he describes as the EU's "step children."
"The simplified authorisation of vehicles and a common signalling system will improve cross-border railway operation but we need to harmonise information exchange and ticketing systems," Doppelbauer says.
The certification of rail vehicles in Europe has become a major problem for manufacturers and their customers with billions of euros of new trains caught up in an often interminable process. Doppelbauer believes there are two reasons for this: "One is the complicated nationally-driven processes which the Fourth Railway Package will resolve, and the other is unreasonable novelty introduced by either users or manufacturers, which Shift2Rail will help to solve because it will bring the two sides together and there will be more standardised rolling stock.
"In the future, a single rail vehicle which operates in several countries will only require one authorisation to do so - this will be a step forward compared with the current system whereby a locomotive which operates in 10 EU countries needs 10 safety certificates.
"In January 2015 we issued the new scope-extended TSI which removed the need to comply with both the TSI and the national standard. This was a major contributor to the Technical Pillar."
Doppelbauer believes the Fourth Railway Package will be the last of its kind as it represents a major step forward, and that there will only be normal legislation afterwards.
The protracted introduction of ETCS in Europe looks set to get a shot in the arm this year with the introduction of Baseline 3 which could prove a turning point in its deployment. "Release 1 of Baseline 3 is already approved and Release 2 was due to be ready last month," Doppelbauer explains. "The vote to approve Baseline 3 in the risk committee has been brought forward from June to February so it will become the legal baseline for ETCS in the first half of this year.
"Release 2 means ETCS is now functionally complete and a reference for compatibility. By 2017-18 operators will be able to select from a range of compatible products, and it will future-proof investment in ETCS for railways because Baseline 3 Release 2 is fully compatible with Release 1 and Baseline 2. A key task will be to enforce full compatibility, and we are the guardians of ETCS. The ERTMS stakeholders platform will become operational this year which will provide a new streamlined governance for ERTMS."
While the first two levels of ETCS plus the limited supervision version are being deployed, the development of ETCS Level 3, which offers the potential of lower operating costs through the elimination of lineside signals and higher capacity with moving block, seems as elusive as ever.
"ETCS was designed with Level 3 functionality and it has already been demonstrated on regional lines so technically there is not a problem," Doppelbauer says. "Operation is the big challenge when there is no trackside train detection. This is a big opportunity for European railways to harmonise train operations and we are working with them to develop a new operating system. When that it is place, ETCS Level 3 will be a game changer. We should be in a position to roll out Level 3 in the next decade."