THE European Commission (EC) officially launched the European Year of Rail on March 29 and confirmed plans to operate the Connecting Europe Express (CEE), a special train that will travel across Europe to promote rail as a driving force for sustainable mobility, economic activity, and European identity.

The train will commence its journey in Lisbon in September, travelling via most European capitals including Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia which will hold the presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2021, and will completing the journey in Paris, which is set to hold the presidency in the first half of 2022. The train will make 40 stops, including in non-EU member states Switzerland and Serbia, where locally planned events and activities will take place to promote rail. The train will also host a special innovation exhibition in one of the coaches.

European transport commissioner, Ms Adina Vălean, announced plans for CEE during an online launch event for the European Year of Rail. Vălean said the train will showcase the unifying force of rail. However, the fact that three versions of the train will be required emphasise the challenges facing the European sector to deliver a seamless cross-border rail network.

“The CEE will offer a useful reminder of the challenges that European rail has to overcome in order to become the mode of choice for passengers and businesses alike,” Vălean said. “Ideally it should be a single train but a continued lack of interoperability between some parts of Europe’s network mean that the reality is that we need three different trains to fit the different gauges used in Europe.

“The CEE is a useful reminder of the many technical and administrative barriers that still need to be overcome for the creation of a true single European Railway Area. It will also demonstrate the very good cooperation between railway undertakings and infrastructure managers.”

Indeed, the EC has enlisted the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies (CER) to work with its members to coordinate operation of the train, including the supply of rolling stock, track access and staff. “It will be a massive organisational exercise that will demonstrate the spirit of good collaboration between rail companies and their eagerness to contribute to efforts to improve awareness about the future of mobility in Europe,” CER says.

“Only by consistently shifting freight traffic to rail and expanding international long-distance passenger rail services will Europe be able to achieve its climate targets and make the European Green Deal an overall success,” says Mr Andreas Mättha, CEO of Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) and chair of CER.