THIS year has been one of continued environmental distress. After unprecedented wildfires in Australia in January and February, this summer scientists discovered that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at their “worst case scenario rate,” and California is enduring record-breaking fires that have already decimated more than 2 million acres of forest. The climate crisis is truly global, requiring an international response.

Understanding the ramifications of continuing pollution, the European Commission (EC), led by Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, has made the EU Green Deal the cornerstone of its tenure, rooting its Covid-19 economic recovery plan in its sustainability principles. Achieving both the EU Green Deal’s objective of carbon neutrality by 2050 and creating an economic rebound after the pandemic will require a suite of European transport policies which foster the creation of innovative, sustainable rail products and model shift to rail.

Transport produces approximately 24% of total EU emissions, making it the second largest creator of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe after energy production, and the only sector to increase them over the past 20 years. But rail produces only 0.5% of transport’s greenhouse gasses and has been able to reduce its environmental impact while expanding capacity. Earlier this year, von der Leyen instructed the EC to work towards moving a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried by road onto rail and inland water.

The European rail supply industry is confident in its ability to contribute to the new sustainable mobility paradigm but it will require sufficient support to quickly produce and deploy future green technologies.

Investment in research and innovation (R&I) initiatives will allow Europe to realise sustainable technology and suppliers to compete in a global market that will come to see them as a necessity. Maintaining this leadership in rail innovation will be an asset as the EU seeks economic growth in a post Covid-19 world.

To achieve the Green Deal objectives, solutions created with the help of partnerships like Shift2Rail (S2R) are needed to formulate a new sustainable, digital and competitive transport paradigm around rail.
S2R has successfully pushed collaborative research initiatives by bringing together European rail suppliers, operators, infrastructure managers, and academia to strengthen rail’s innovation ecosystems.

Investment in research and innovation (R&I) initiatives will allow Europe to realise sustainable technology and suppliers to compete in a global market.

The whole sector, led by Unife, CER, EIM, UITP and ERRAC in cooperation with DG Move, has been working relentlessly this past year to prepare S2R’s successor. A robust R&I budget will help to realise rail’s contribution to green and digital transitions, and create technological sovereignty for Europe.

In July, the European Council reached a preliminary 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) agreement. The new budget was complemented by a €750bn Covid-19 recovery package put forward by the EC called Next Generation EU. The package is currently being negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council and should be finalised by the end of the year. As Europe becomes increasingly aware of Covid-19’s deep economic impact while continuing to focus on the ongoing climate crisis, the final budget should reserve additional funds for the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).


Unife is calling on the Parliament’s support during this next phase of negotiations, as the Council discussions resulted in a cut to the EC’s €22.9bn CEF transport budget to €21.38bn. Horizon Europe suffered a greater cut, down to €75.9bn from the planned €494.4bn. Additional EU Structural Funds and InvestEU allocations are necessary to create the conditions for rail’s swift return to economic normalcy and put Europe on track to implementing truly sustainable, digital and multimodal mobility.

The EC and the EIB must continue to support rolling stock modernisation and expansion alongside ERTMS, while rail must be prioritised as member states prepare their national recovery plans. These funds and reprioritisation of national objectives can help generate new rail projects geared towards decarbonisation.

There is an opportunity for the EU and rail to create an innovative, greener mobility paradigm.

Building a new greener mobility system will not only require financial support and technological innovations, but also the full implementation of the Single European Rail Area (SERA). A foundational block of this is the completion of the transposition of the Technical Pillar of the Fourth Railway Package (FRP). The 12 remaining member states which have not yet transposed the FRP are expected to complete the process by October 31 2020. This milestone will transform the EU Agency for Railways (ERA) into a “One-Stop Shop” for vehicle authorisation.

As Covid-19 has reshuffled Europe’s priorities and highlighted the importance of taking on climate change, the EU has the rare opportunity to make meaningful strides through transport decarbonisation. This can only be done by committing greater resources to rail and its promise of clean mobility.

DG Move is expected to release its Strategy on Sustainable and Smart Mobility by the end of the year. Unife, together with CER and EIM, has called for an ambitious new strategy that prioritises the creation of a seamless, frictionless single European transport area in which policy makers set ambitious climate objectives. With the support of the climate-minded German Presidency of the European Council, there is an opportunity for the EU and rail to create an innovative, greener mobility paradigm.