Well our letter to the EC on rail cuts
didn't get much coverage, but at least it has been mentioned twice
in European Voice, which for those of you outside the EU is a
pretty important Brussels-based publication.
We've had a holding reply from the Transport Commissioner but
nothing else yet so Simon and I will soon take follow-up steps.
All the best,
Get cross-border rail back on track
By Dave Keating - Today, 03:35 CET
The scrapping of classic train services in favour of high-speed,
more expensive alternatives is a problem happening all over Europe
Members of the Dutch national parliament joined their Belgian
colleagues in Brussels on Monday (28 January) to interrogate
railway bosses about the spectacular collapse of the high-speed
Fyra train service between the two countries that had been
launched on 9 December. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Dutch MPs
decided to drive rather than take the train. “I don't want to run
the risk of arriving late,” one Socialist MP told a Dutch news
Actually, there is now no direct train between The Hague and
Brussels that the MPs could have taken. On the same day that the
two national rail companies launched the Fyra service between
Brussels and Amsterdam, they ended the low-speed train service
that had connected the two countries for 50 years. (It was known
as the Benelux service though it was never extended to
Luxembourg.) Although this train took an hour longer than the
high-speed Thalys for the journey between Brussels and Amsterdam,
it was cheaper and required no advance reservation. It also served
Breda and The Hague, which are not served by the Thalys.
It appears that the fondly remembered Benelux train was scrapped
too quickly. After its launch, Fyra was plagued by a month of
near-constant delays and cancellations until on 17 January the
Belgian rail safety agency shut it down. Appearing before the MPs
on Monday, both national train operators blamed Italian trainmaker
AnsaldoBreda for providing faulty trains. The Fyra service will
not be restored for months, leaving the Thalys as the only direct
rail link between Belgium and the Netherlands.
Sadly, this situation is symptomatic of something happening all
over Europe – the scrapping of ‘classic' cross-border train
services in favour of high-speed services that are more expensive
– and sometimes not yet operational.
Last month the World Car-Free Network wrote an open letter to the
European Commission expressing alarm at the situation. The letter
listed a staggering number of cross-border routes that have been
lost over the past few years. In addition to the Benelux service,
December also saw the end of train routes between Barcelona and
Zurich, Barcelona and Milan and Bucharest and Belgrade.
Direct trains between Lisbon and Madrid were axed last October,
which was also when the ferry-train route between Berlin and Malmo
stopped. Routes between Vienna-Sofia, Berlin-Kiev and Paris-Rome
were also cut in 2012, to name a few. Last year Greece ended all
of its international train services, under pressure from its
troika of international creditors.
These are just the recent examples. Rail enthusiasts in Brussels
will remember how the ‘classic' train service to Paris was
eliminated when the Thalys service began. There is no longer a
low-speed direct train from Brussels to either Lille or Cologne.
Although it was promised that competition on these two routes
would bring lower prices for high-speed services, in practice the
prices remain higher than the old ‘local' train.
Yet the World Car-Free Network's letter does not appear to have
made it to the desk of Siim Kallas, the European commissioner for
transport. At a press conference last week, when asked about the
Fyra situation and how it fits into a broader problem of
disappearing cross-border train routes, the commissioner appeared
blissfully unaware of any problems.
“I don't have this type of information that high-speed trains will
eliminate other types of trains,” he said. “The network of classic
trains exists everywhere; so far we don't have to deal with this
type of problem.”
Kallas has declared himself committed to increasing cross-border
transport. He knows that Europe's cross-border connections are
already low in number and plagued with expensive inefficiencies.
He ought then to know that the few cross-border rail connections
that have been operating are now being withdrawn.
It is easy to see why this is happening. Both governments and
train companies are having their budgets squeezed, and promises to
preserve loss-making cross-border services do not win many votes.
High-speed trains are deemed to be the best hope of profitable
services that can compete with air or road travel.
However, that goal has yet to be realised. Europe still lacks a
decent network of high-speed international trains. In the
meantime, the slower-paced links between EU member states are
being eroded. One of the very practical effects of Europe's
economic difficulties is that the integration of European
transport is in retreat.
CEE Bankwatch Network
c/o Zelena akcija
Frankopanska 1 pp.952
10 000 Zagreb
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