After a two-year break, this year’s TEN-T Days brought together the stakeholders of the Trans-European Networks in Lyon from 28-30 June 2022. Under the new label ‘Connecting Europe Days’, the future of the trans-European networks was discussed for three days. One thing became clear: there is still a lot to do. First and foremost with regard to the capacities in the network as well as in the nodes (railway stations, GVZ and ports). The capacity restrictions in the stations in particular will prove to be a major problem in the future with regard to growth in the rail sector. In Amsterdam, for example, only about 250 passengers can be handled per train, but up to 900 passengers fit into a Eurostar.

To achieve this, however, it is not enough to implement the targets set by the European Commission. Rather, all actors must find pragmatic solutions to improve the flow of rail traffic – including operations – even in the short term. At the same time, the resilience of the existing infrastructure must be improved. Resilience does not mean creating a system in which crises no longer occur, but rather the system must become so agile that crises can be countered with adequate solutions. This can be achieved, for example, through better construction site management or the reactivation of disused railway lines.

In this context, of course, the keyword ERTMS always comes up. Here it became clear how much Germany is lagging behind in a European comparison: While Belgium has already equipped 41% and Italy around 24% of the network with ERTMS, the percentage in Germany is zero. The Netherlands and Switzerland, on the other hand, have almost completely converted their networks.

Participants also agreed that civil society needs to be more aware that consumption is not possible without transport. Therefore, the infrastructure must also be rebuilt in such a way that growth is also possible in the future – after all, the trend is towards more and more mobility.

Another focus was on the decabonisation of European transport. The participants agreed that the transport sector must make an important contribution both to climate protection and to reducing political dependence on fossil fuels. However, this can only succeed if an integrated transport system is created and ports, rail and the energy industry work on common visions and goals.

Another focus was on the invasion of Ukraine and the Solidarity Lanes implemented by the European Commission with corresponding Action Plan. This is a series of measures to support Ukraine in exporting its agricultural products – mainly also via rail and the Rhine-Danube corridor. Andrei Spinu, Minister for Infrastructure of the Republic of Moldova, explained that about 70 % of the country’s own railway infrastructure is currently used for Ukrainian transit. Therefore, corresponding support from the EU is expected.

Hasit Thankey, Head of Civil Preparedness Unit, NATO, emphasised that it is simply wrong to only fight crises and then carry on as before.  NATO is therefore also thinking about how the railway infrastructure must be redesigned in the future, also in terms of defence capability.

Another panel dealt with the topic of cross-border rail transport. Here, the participants criticised above all the lack of competition in the EU. At the same time, the market entry barriers for new operators and RUs are very high. For example, private rail operators need guarantees from the European Commission, otherwise they will not receive money from the European investment bank for the high investments that have to be made, especially in rolling stock. At the same time, the bureaucratic hurdles in the area of funding are so high that SMEs often look for private equity rather than taking advantage of EU funding. There is no international coordination body for transport in the EU.

Once the hurdles of raising liquidity are overcome, there are still problems with the allocation of train paths, especially in Germany and France, which is mainly due to the low network capacity.