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  • EC acts to boost cross-border rail

    The Commission has published proposals to standardise rail ticketing information, which it says is a first step towards easier pan-European train journeys. The transport commissioner Siim Kallas says this is part of long-term efforts to allow rail to compete with short-distance air transport.

    The technical regulation published earlier this month allows for the full exchange of rail ticket information – train timetables, what kind of seats are available, prices, reservation procedures, etc – among rail companies and train ticket sellers. A more important stage will come next year, with the development of the IT system and its deployment in Europe. This process will be accompanied by an additional measure by the Commission to ensure that all these operators bring their computer systems and practices into line.

    Kallas said: ‘If we are serious about getting people onto rail, and particularly about having rail compete with air travel, then we need to offer rail passengers the seamless planning and ticketing offers that match the airlines. Making common timetabling and fare information available to operators is a significant first step, but it is just the start of a much bigger push to make pan-European rail planning and ticketing a reality.’

    At the moment, various different computer systems are used for timetable and passenger data. Although several attempts have already been made to connect the individual booking systems, operators are expected to campaign fiercely for their systems.

    T&E policy officer Antoine Kedzierski said: ‘The key to the success of this long-term plan is whether the rail operators will be willing to promptly introduce an instrument that will increase competition. If they aren’t, we could have a situation we have had with the EU-wide signalling system ERTMS, which has not been successful because so few companies are using it. Admittedly there are fewer technical problems and costs associated with establishing common standards for train ticket IT systems, but much will depend on how binding this measure will be.’

    The Commission is assessing whether it needs additional measures to remove national barriers that are an obstacle to the growth in cross-border rail.