The move will see a series of events, campaigns and initiatives launched throughout the year to promote rail as a sustainable, innovative and safe mode of transport. The year will also highlight rail’s benefits for people, the economy and the climate and focus on the remaining challenges to create a true borderless Single European Rail Area.

“There’s no doubt that railway transport means huge benefits in most areas: sustainability, safety, even speed, once it's organised and engineered according to 21st century principles,” says the EC’s transport commissioner, Ms Adina Vălean. “Setting up a coherent and functional network across all Europe is an exercise in political cohesion. The European Year of Rail is not a random event. It comes at an appropriate time, when the EU needs this kind of collective undertaking.”

“Rail is not only environmentally friendly and energy-efficient - it is also the only mode of transport to have almost continuously reduced its CO2 emissions since 1990, at the same time as it increased transport volumes,” the EC says.

The European Year of Rail in 2021 will help to step up the pace of rail modernisation, the EC says, which is needed to make it a more popular alternative to less sustainable transport modes.

2021 will be the first full year in which the rules agreed under the Fourth Railway Package will be implemented throughout the EU, and the year also marks several important anniversaries for rail including the 20th anniversary of the First Railway Package, the 175th anniversary of the first rail link between Paris and Brussels, as well as 40 years of TGV and 30 years of ICE services.

The proposal comes as the EC unveiled The European Climate Law, which sets a target of ensuring the EU becomes climate neutral by 2050.

The Europalia international arts festival has already selected rail as its 2021 theme, and will be an active contributor to the wide range of activities taking place throughout the European Year of Rail.

In December 2019, the EC set out a European Green Deal for the EU, to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. As transport accounts for a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, the EC says rail will play a crucial role in achieving this target and has been set the objective of reducing its emissions by 90% by 2050.

As part of the European Green Deal, the EC is currently working on a strategy for sustainable and smart mobility that will address emissions from all transport modes. The EC has prioritised shifting a “substantial part” of the 75% of inland freight currently carried by road onto rail and inland waterways.

The EC’s proposal on declaring 2021 as the European Year of Rail will need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council.