Technical proposals

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At a glance

The so-called 'technical pillar' of the 4th railway package covers updates to three important pieces of existing legislation. The aim of the changes is to cut administrative costs for rail operators and make it easier for new operators to enter the rail market. One of the main changes concerns the European Railway Agency (ERA). At the moment, it plays a key role in promoting interoperability and harmonising technical standards for the whole EU market. However, national technical and safety rules remain alongside the EU ones drafted by ERA, which creates unnecessary complexity for rail operators. The proposed revisions would make ERA the sole body responsible for issuing vehicle authorisations and safety certificates across the whole EU.

Alongside the changes in responsibilities for ERA, the 4th railway package also includes updates to existing legislation on interoperability and rail safety. These changes aim to remove the remaining administrative and technical barriers to the creation of a single European rail area.

In detail

1. Proposal on the European Railway Agency - 2013/0014 (COD)

Authorisation procedures for new rail vehicles can currently take up to two years and cost up to €6 million. Rail operators also have to pay the national safety authority for the cost of the approval process.

This makes it hard for new operators and new vehicle manufacturers to enter the market.

ERA is currently responsible for drafting EU technical specifications for interoperability (TSIs) and proposing safety methods and targets for rail safety. However, although there are harmonised standards, rail authorisations and safety certificates are still issued by member states.

Under the proposed changes, ERA would have sole responsibility for issuing authorisations for railway vehicles, safety certificates for railway operators and authorisations for trackside control-command and signalling systems. It would also have other new tasks, including:

  • monitoring national railway rules and the performance of national authorities in the areas of railway interoperability and safety
  • providing independent and objective technical support, mostly to the European Commission
  • a stronger role in ensuring the consistent development and swift deployment of telematics applications
  • a more important role in ensuring the consistent development of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS)

The proposal also includes improvements to ERA's governance structure and internal operating methods. 

2. Proposal on the interoperability of the rail system in the EU - 2013/0015 (COD)

The existing directive (2008/57) was introduced to ensure technical standardisation of rail networks and interoperability - a key factor in developing and establishing trans-European rail networks. The proposed changes establish a common approach to interoperability rules, which would increase economies of scale for rail operators. The changes would also speed up administrative procedures and therefore lower administrative costs. The revision would also bring the 2008 directive in line with other elements of the 4th railway package, particularly the proposal to revise the role of ERA.

In particular, the proposal includes a new provision in the technical standards for interoperability (TSIs) to cover existing subsystems. This also enables railway operators to check the compatibility between vehicles and routes where these vehicles will be operated. Other changes include:

  • clarification of the use of ERA opinions while pending the amendment of TSIs after discovery of deficiencies
  • reduction of the cases for possible non-application of TSIs
  • a new provision on vehicle authorisation for placing on the market
  • clarification of the role of rail operators and infrastructure managers in checking the technical compatibility of a vehicle with a route

3. Proposal to amend the directive on railway safety - 2013/0016 (COD)

The existing directive (2004/49) established a framework for railway safety but stopped short of introducing a single safety certificate. The 4th railway package proposes that the EU should move towards a single safety certificate, issued by the European Railway Agency (ERA). This means that the 2004 directive needs to be updated, to revise the role of the national safety authorities and reallocate responsibilities between them and ERA. The proposed changes also take into account recent changes in the rail market, and ensure correct safety monitoring and risk control measures are used.

In particular, the revised directive aims to:

  • facilitate the creation and implementation of a single EU safety certificate, while only granting access to railway infrastructure to rail operators with a safety certificate
  • take into account developments in the rail market, such as increased outsourcing of services and  decreasing internal controls
  • adapt its scope and definitions in line with the revised interoperability directive
  • clarify cooperation between national investigation bodies and judicial authorities during investigations following an accident

In the Council 

On 10 December 2015, the Council adopted its position at first reading on all three draft directives. The European Parliament now needs to formally approve them at second reading.

The Council adopted separate general approach texts on each of the proposals during meetings of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy (TTE) Council in June 2013, October 2013 and March 2014. This was followed by political agreement on all three draft proposals on 5 June 2014. Following a series of informal trilogue discussions, the Council and the European Parliament reach reached a provisional agreement on the three technical proposals  on 17 June 2015. This agreement was confirmed by member states at a Coreper meeting on 30 June 2015.

1. Proposal on the European Railway Agency

The Council adopted a general approach on 14 March 2014, setting out several changes to the original proposal, including:

  • changing ERA's role in the examination of national rules in connection with railway safety and interoperability
  • further clarifying when the Commission will be able to issue a decision on national rules

The Council's text also looks at the process for handling deficiencies in national safety authorities' safety and interoperability tasks, the fees to be charged by ERA for the services it will deliver, and the setting up of a system of appeals.

The European Parliament adopted its position at first reading on 26 February 2014 on all 6 pieces of legislation under the 4th railway package.

2. Proposal on the interoperability of the rail system in the EU

The Council adopted a general approach on 10 June 2013, setting out several changes to the original proposal. The Council proposes changes to the responsibilities of the national safety authorities and ERA in relation to the vehicle authorisation process. The Council's text provides for a dual system of authorisations with a clear separation of tasks and responsibilities between ERA and national safety authorities. ERA would issue authorisations for vehicles to be used in cross-border operations, based on assessments carried out by national authorities.

3. Proposal on railway safety 

The Council adopted a general approach on 10 October 2013, setting out several changes to the original proposal. The Council's agreed text provides for a dual system of safety certification introducing a single safety certificate. This dual system would keep ERA as a one-stop-shop for railway companies operating in multiple member states. However, national authorities would keep a key role in carrying out the assessments needed for the issuing of the safety certificate. If the railway company only operates in a single member state, the Council proposes that they could choose to submit the certification request either to ERA or to the relevant national safety authority.