European Year of Rail: from propaganda to reality


This month marks the end of the European Year of Rail 2021. A year that has seen a huge amount of propaganda on the use of rail transport and its potential role in decarbonization, such as the replacement of short-haul flights ( less than 600 km) by trains, the use of the railway for territorial cohesion and for international connections.

The need to promote greater use of the train as a means of transport is indeed real and fair.

But beyond this rhetoric, little has been said about the consequences of four European rail packages aimed at liberalizing the sector. They have a strictly mercantilist vision of rail transport, conditioning the operation for profit and favoring the concentration of operations.

Operations, it should be noted, which are associated in some countries with decades of policies of disinvestment and abandonment by successive governments.

It is to highlight some of these facts, and the contradictions between propaganda and reality, but also to understand the issues linked to the increase in the use of rail transport, that I have promoted several initiatives, resulting in to a train trip between Lisbon and Strasbourg to participate in the plenary session of the European Parliament in December.

The first difficulty I encountered was getting a proposal from the European Parliament travel agency, not out of lack of diligence or will, but because today, in the digital age, unfortunately it is more difficult to get a ticket between European capitals than it was decades ago.

The cost of the trip is significantly higher than the same trip by plane: € 398 one way (excluding accommodation costs), compared to € 130 for a return trip by plane.

“It is to highlight some of these facts, and the contradictions between propaganda and reality, but also to understand the issues linked to the increase in the use of rail transport, that I have promoted several initiatives, culminating in a train journey between Lisbon and Strasbourg to participate in the plenary session of the European Parliament in December “

Considering the current lack of international connections from Portugal, the journey took approximately 57 hours. The international connections from Portugal which were lost last year (under the pretext of a pandemic) would have allowed this connection to Strasbourg in a fraction of the time.

The Sud Express, created in 1887, which once linked Lisbon to London with a connection to Hendaye in southwestern France, would have made it possible to reach Strasbourg from Lisbon in just over 22 hours.

The closure of this link represents a decline of 130 years, with no prospect of replacement for the moment. Governments and railway authorities on both sides of the border are shifting responsibilities from one to the other.

The absence of any provision relating to this service between the Portuguese government and the national operator leaves the door open to the entry of so-called “white brands”, large European rail giants like the German DB, the French SNCF, Italian Trenitalia or other private operators. .

The border crossing with Spain was made between Elvas and Badajoz, after a three hour journey with a diesel locomotive from the 1950s at an average speed of 60 km / h.

And this is a link which, following the process of ‘harmonization’ of railways in the EU, could well be compromised from 1 January 2022, given the obligation for drivers to Portuguese train to operate at Spanish language B1 level in Spain (and vice versa), imposing bureaucratic constraints that did not prevent operations in the past.

“The journey took, given the current lack of international connections from Portugal, around 57 hours. The international connections from Portugal which were lost last year (under the pretext of the pandemic) would have enabled this connection to Strasbourg in a fraction of the time “

Other similar examples highlighting the complexity of the operation through bureaucratic “harmonization” can be provided. The solution for this is to have an escort for a transition of a few hundred meters, making the operation more expensive and economically unviable, or, in the worst case, to interrupt it before the border.

The railways were and remain at the European level; essentially a collection of national systems whose history has shown that they can interact with each other.

The political objectives, often translated into technical orientations, determined a deliberate outcome: to break each of these systems into sections and impose its reconstruction on a European scale, destroy national sovereignty over yet another strategic sector, and create a system made for them. large multinationals.

Little has been said over the past year about the thousands of kilometers of deactivated rail lines, or the reduction and degradation of supply, or the thousands of jobs lost and hundreds of stations closed.

The consequences of the dismemberment of national operators separating operation, infrastructure and maintenance, countries such as Germany or France not having implemented such solutions despite the fact that they had promoted them through successive railway packages, have also been underestimated.

“My trip to Strasbourg was a demonstration in the form of a trip, denouncing the disinvestment in the railways, and the consequences of a liberalization imposed from ‘Brussels'”

The loss of rolling stock production capacity and technological knowledge is also a factor in several countries.

My trip to Strasbourg was a protest in the form of a trip, denouncing the disinvestment in the railways, and the consequences of a liberalization imposed from Brussels.

Liberalization aimed at concentrating operations while compromising the fundamental role that the railway can and must play in territorial cohesion and in the economic and social development of each country.