The associations have been pushing for ERA to become the one-stop-shop to end the current time-consuming and costly vehicle approval and certification process which is currently done nationally and had led to fleets of new trains languishing in sidings for months awaiting authorisation to enter service. In its new role, ERA would cooperate closely with the National Safety Authorities (NSA), especially to assess all remaining national rules.

However, some member states are pushing an alternative for the Safety Directive whereby one NSA would take the lead and act as the one-stop-shop in coordination with the other NSAs. The lead NSA would be the coordinator and responsible for the correct application of processes and for issuing safety certification. The proposal is being taken seriously as it is currently under discussion in the transport working group of the Council.

The associations say that this approach "fully depends on mutual respect and is likely to fail due to diverging national approaches. In addition, in case of disagreement among the NSAs, there would be no independent appeal body to call upon, therefore decisions could be left pending endlessly because the 'equal' parties fail to reach common solutions. The concept of the lead NSA will result in the continuity of today's inefficient and long-lasting processes for receiving safety certification. The proposal must be rejected in order to overcome a challenging situation and not simply maintain today's problematic framework."

The associations say that making ERA responsible for issuing vehicle authorisations and safety certificates, in close cooperation with the NSAs, would be a significant step forward. But they want ERA to be equipped with sufficient competent, highly-skilled staff. "Following the lead NSA approach would cement the existing unacceptable situation and is moreover an irreversible step back in the wrong direction," say the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), the Association of the European Railway Industry (Unife), the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA), the International Union of Wagon Keepers (UIP), the European Passenger Train and Traction Operating Lessors Association (Epttola), the International Union of Railways (UIC), the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) and the International Union for Road-Rail Combined Transport (UIRR).

In a few days a decisive Council meeting on the Safety Directive proposed by the Lithuanian Presidency will take place. "The rail sector expects that a general approach will be approved during this meeting by the Member States," say the associations. "This should continue in the direction of an enhanced role of ERA via the issuing of safety certificates and further moving towards the Single European Railway Area."

This is backed up by Unife's director general Mr Philippe Citroën who says: "The European railway sector has been calling for a streamlined and transparent process for vehicle authorisation for years and the discussions about the Fourth Railway Package's Technical Pillar were so far on the right track. The enhanced role of ERA should not be put in question."