EU rail transport policy

Over the last thirty years, the EU and its member states have worked together to develop a common rail transport policy. The latter contributes to the wider policy objectives for the transport sector overall, which aim to achieve connected, sustainable, inclusive, safe, and secure mobility within the EU. Increasing the share of rail transport is an essential objective for decarbonising the economy and achieving the EU’s climate goals. EU rail policy focuses on the main goal of establishing a single European railway area, an EU-wide system of railway networks which will allow the expansion of the rail sector based on competition, technical harmonisation and joint development of cross-border connections.

To this end, the EU aims to:

  • open and restructure the rail market;
  • increase competitiveness by creating a level playing field for companies;
  • develop infrastructure to ensure interoperability;
  • improve efficiency in infrastructure use and safety;
  • ensure fair prices for consumers.

Rail Freight Corridors (RFCs)

In this context, Regulation (EU) No 913/2010 concerning a European rail network for competitive freight requested member states to establish international market-oriented Rail Freight Corridors (RFCs). This legislation, which represents the legal basis for ScanMed’s existence and work, is intended to meet three challenges:

  • strengthening co-operation between Infrastructure Managers (IMs) on key aspects such as allocation of path, deployment of interoperable systems and infrastructure development;
  • striking the right balance between freight and passenger traffic along the Rail Freight Corridors, giving adequate capacity and priority for freight in line with market needs and ensuring that common punctuality targets for freight trains are met;
  • promoting intermodality between rail and other transport modes by integrating terminals into the corridor management and development.

The Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T)

Nevertheless, the RFCs are part of a much wider picture, as the EU has also established nine Core Network Corridors (CNCs) across the continent. The resulting Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) aims to create a network of railway lines, roads, inland waterways, maritime routes, ports, and airports to connect EU member states and facilitate cross-border transport of people and supplies. The CNCs help to increase the share of the rail sector in freight transport, which today covers about 19% of the total. They do so by closing infrastructure gaps between member states, remove bottlenecks that still interfere with the smooth functioning of the single market, and overcome technical barriers. By 2030, the Core Network, consisting of 50.762 km of rail infrastructure, should be completed. In 2014, each Corridor was assigned an EU Coordinator whose task is to supervise and promote its planning and implementation. Pat Cox, a former European Parliament president, is the current coordinator for the ScanMed Corridor.

EU funding

The European essence of ScanMed RFC is also given by the fact that, over the years, the Corridor has been co-funded through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), which is administered by the European Climate, Infrastructure, and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). CEF aims at supporting investments in building new transport infrastructure in Europe or rehabilitating and upgrading the existing one. It focuses on cross-border projects aiming at removing bottlenecks or bridging missing links in various sections of the CNCs, as well as horizontal priorities such as traffic management systems. CEF also supports innovation in the transport system to improve the use of infrastructure, reduce the environmental impact of transport, enhance energy efficiency, and increase safety. Considering that CINEA manages EU funds aimed at decarbonisation and sustainable growth, it is not surprising how most of the CEF-backed projects concern the railway sector, for a total budget of 16.5 billion euros.

The future

As part of the European Green Deal, in 2021 the European Commission presented its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. The strategy outlines the EU’s goals for the transport sector for the coming decades: making mobility green, smart, and resilient. In the case of railways, it calls for increasing rail freight traffic by 50% by 2030 and for doubling it by 2050. Furthermore, in 2022, the Commission also put forward its proposal for the revised TEN-T regulation, whose implementation is foreseen to have a profound impact on ScanMed RFC and its work. Finally, in 2023, the Commission unveiled its long-awaited proposal for Greening Freight Transport. The package includes a draft Regulation on the use of railway infrastructure capacity in the Single European Railway Area. With it, the Commission put forward measures to better manage and coordinate international rail traffic, revising the entire capacity management framework and consolidating it into one single legal text. Moreover, the legal text repeals and replaces the RFC Regulation, effective December 9, 2029. What future awaits the RFCs, therefore, remains to be seen.