In an open letter to Mr Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, EU transport commissioner Mrs Adina Vălean, EU cohesion and reforms commissioner Ms Elisa Ferreira and EU transport ministers, the two associations want policy actions to be geared towards rail to ensure that low-emission transport options are supported over less environmentally friendly modes.

“It is key therefore that the post-Covid-19 revision of the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) does not look to return to the status quo, and that the ambitions of the European Green Deal are not forgotten but become a reality,” say Unife’s director general Mr Philippe Citroën and CER’s executive director Mr Libor Lochman. “The new MFF should have the Green Deal at its core, it should look to an expanded Connecting Europe Facility (CEF 2) with an increased budget, an ambitious Cohesion Policy and a strong Horizon Europe Framework Programme that ensures the extension of the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking.”

The associations point out that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of investing in “reliable economic actors” like rail. They want to see further expansion and renewal of the existing infrastructure to improve Europe’s economy. The associations point out that investing in the right resources and technologies to maximise infrastructure capacity will help rail freight achieve its true potential.

Unife and CER highlight that railways have stepped up to provide essential services while at the same time bearing the considerable financial impact of the collapse in passenger and freight traffic. “An additional challenge will be the resumption of international rail passenger services that have come to an almost standstill due to the closure of borders within and outside the EU,” Citroën and Lochman say.

The associations are also calling for the global competitiveness of the European rail supply industry to be safeguarded to ensure that rail digitalisation and innovation continues to advance, including ERTMS.

They want to see investment in sound climate solutions, namely rail. “The environmental benefits of a shift to rail freight need to be fully considered,” Citroën and Lochman say. “Greater support for long distance and high-speed rail across Europe should come from coordinated investments in direct city to city rail connections, especially in comparison with other highly-polluting modes of transport. The EU should not be looking to return to the status quo, with all its accompanying environmental impacts.

“The changes to Europe coming from the Covid-19 crisis will be long-lasting, but we believe that by looking at the economic opportunities and environmental benefits offered by a renewal and improvement of the European rail network, EU leaders can use this as a cost-efficient opportunity to meet several goals at once.”