Webinar on railway: good timetable planning, passenger information and investment in infrastructure are important
“The contribution of the railway to sustainable mobility” was the topic of this year’s second thematic webinar organized by ODRAZ as the Secretariat of the CIVINET Slovenia-Croatia-JIE Network on 15 July 2022. In total 50 participants from Croatia and neighbouring countries participated in the webinar.
The railway, along with public transport and active forms of mobility, is always in the focus – said the introducer on the topic of the webinar, Goran Lampelj from ODRAZ. The European Union, driven by climate change and the goal of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, has also put all its effort on the railway – combined with all aspects of public transport, the integration of public transport and the active promotion of sustainable mobility.
This webinar focused on how existing resources can be provided with better service, what are the organisational and legislative obstacles, and the preconditions that must be achieved in order to make public transport by rail more efficient for passengers.
The first presentation “European Union and Railways” was given by Lidija Pavić-Rogošić, director of ODRAZ and a member of the European and Economic Committee. In her presentation, she briefly addressed EU policies and presented the opinion of the EESC Working Group on the Single Railway Area described in the White Paper “Strategy for the Revitalisation of Community Railways” in 1996. This strategy has been implemented under four legislative packages since 2011, but despite the same legislative framework that applies to all countries, the situation has evolved differently in various Member States.
In 2012, a directive establishing a single European railway area was adopted and it explains the legal rules relating to quality improvements by encouraging market competition, strengthening market surveillance, and improving investment conditions. An essential element is the obligation to provide public services, which is essential to ensure accessible, affordable, and inclusive passenger services for citizens. The desired overall result has not been achieved in the past three decades and the railway continues to show significant shortcomings in increasing its modal share of passenger and freight transport. Nevertheless, there are some good examples from Austria, Germany and Sweden that have improved results in terms of modal share and volume of rail transport of goods. Also, there is increased talk about the introduction of night passenger trains, and a good example of this is Austrian Railways.
Overall, the modal share of rail transport is just under seven percent. Over the years, this share has not increased too much, and the share of passenger car traffic is still growing the most.
For a more detailed insight into the current situation, there is a European Commission document accompanying the Commission Communication on the Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility, which sets out a number of suggestions. It also raises the question of whether free market access is really the right approach to encourage the development of long-distance passenger transport. Without political will and without a political decision to go towards strengthening rail traffic, not much will be achieved, according to Pavić-Rogošić, stressing that it is necessary to invest and manage well.
Pavić-Rogošić then presented what the EESC members wrote in the EESC opinion, which said much more needs to be done at the political, regulatory, and cultural level. It is desirable to strengthen investment efforts in the rail sector, infrastructure, digitalisation and modernization of railway vehicles and the development of a high-speed rail network that would connect all EU capitals and major cities. It also raises the question of whether an integrated or non-integrated railway system is better. Croatia has decided to separate the system. In her presentation, she also mentioned one of the newer documents – the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility. The question is how to achieve these 2050 targets in order to have an operational multimodal trans-European transport network (TEN-T). She also mentioned the Regulation on Union guidelines for the development of a trans-European transport network, which builds on the European Green Deal and the Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility, and the Action Plan to strengthen intercity and cross-border passenger rail services.
In his presentation “Measures to achieve spatial and temporal availability and user recognition in rail passenger transport”, Ante Klečina (Varaždin County / University North) spoke about the economic value of public transport, user awareness, standards for stations and stops, network of lines and financing of railway systems. He emphasized that investment in the system is needed so that it can return what is useful to the economy and society. Even though many digital platforms are available, Klečina believes that there must also be classic channels that need to work well. A crucial factor in the system is the human one, including quality training and enough people who can share information related to travel. Employees in the system must have constant access to quality education. He then talked about the networks of the railway system – how they are planned and how they must be presented to users. When a user is planning their trip, it is especially important that they get answers to some key questions – where to get into the system, where to transfer, where to go and what the travel time is.
Local and city-suburban lines are co-financed in most European countries and are seen as an investment in the service. It is important to invest in knowledge, information, system planning and people and to enable co-financing of local and regional transport by rail. Local and regional travel is particularly important, Klečina concluded.
Associate Professor Borna Abramović from the Faculty of Transport and Traffic Sciences in Zagreb actively joined the discussion, who addressed the problem of system separation. The EU embarked on separation primarily due to the liberalisation of rail transport (one entity deals with infrastructure and the other deals with transport), which has contributed to an increase in passenger numbers, better service and reduced the price of the service itself. The legal basis is the second part of the story. Today, there are three independent companies operating in Croatia, which used to be in the holding company. Since 2017, there is a proposal for a Law on Integrated Passenger Transport, the only question is whether it is in the interest of politicians or not. Proper policy can solve many problems.
Klečina emphasized that the management of the system must be clear and whole. Users, who are very important in the whole story, should not be forgotten. He also expressed support for a well-managed holding company.
In the discussion, Abramović cited the example of the Czech Republic, which made a great integrated transport system with little money. He also mentioned the example of Slovakia, which did not have the financial means to rebuild passenger cars but found a solution in co-financing the renewal of passenger cars if used in regional transport (the carriages were paid for from EU funds).
In the transport sector, social economic cost benefit analyses are necessary, according to Abramović, not financial-market ones.
Abramović believes that a good offer of night trains can eliminate the disadvantages of the length of travel for a certain number of users. For example, in the Czech Republic, all trains offer food and drink. The replacement for poorer infrastructure is quality offers within the train. Ideally, the train would have normal speeds (120 km/h). But, much more important than the speed of travel is the general approach of the staff, quality service, and a greater number of lines. The issue of timetables and harmonisations is easily solved. Good timetable planning and passenger information are required, as well as investing in infrastructure. In addition to investing in the railway, it must also be maintained. In Croatia, the railway was not maintained for many years, Abramović eventually claimed.
The webinar footage is available on ODRAZ’s YouTube channel.
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