Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  M. / Mr Marcel Verslype

The ERA: the European Railway Agency   By Mr. Marcel Verslype, Executive Director of the European Railway Agency
The European Railway Agency (ERA) was established in 2004 by the European Parliament and Council, within the framework of the regulatory structure set up in recent years with the aim of creating an integrated European railway area. The ERA differs from other European agencies in that its seat was established in two different cities, Lille and Valenciennes, at the behest of the French government.   The Agency’s Mission The ERA is charged with gradually drawing up European rules and regulations with the aim of revitalizing Europe’s rail sector and enabling it to continue playing a leading role on the transport market, with special focus on trans-European rail links, the most important area for this mode of transport. Before going any further, let me summarize the key points of the legislation that has been drafted and implemented since 1991. Directive 91/440 of 1991 gave new railway operators access to rail infrastructures for the very first time, starting with freight transport. The European Commission hoped this would lead to healthy competition and revive the sector “from the inside out,” by forcing conventional railway companies to improve their service. “New railway undertakings” and conventional railway companies would all win a share of the market, which would help relieve congestion in Europe’s road networks. But the directive had minimal impact, due to a wide number of technical and organizational roadblocks that made it very difficult for new rail undertakings to break into the market. Over the next few years, the Commission drew up a series of directives with the aim of reorganizing the rail sector in a more decisive manner and removing these obstacles. Directives 2001/12, 2001/14, 96/48 and 2001/16 set out the objectives of: – reorganizing the rail sector to ensure that the activities of infrastructure managers and railway undertakings are effectively “separated” ; – guaranteeing that new and conventional railway undertakings have equal access to infrastructure, be it technical, operational (granting of train paths, or rail “slots”) or financial; – requiring safety certification of railway undertakings, a vital precondition for gaining access to railway infrastructure; – standardizing installations and equipment throughout Europe, in order to gradually break down technical barriers caused by technological differences between countries and ensure “interoperability.” These measures were further bolstered in 2004 by Directive 2004/49, which aims at harmonizing rail safety management procedures by clearly spelling out the responsibilities of both EU member states and railway companies.   The responsibility for implementing the norms and standards laid out in the above texts was entrusted to a new agency that would be the Commission’s “working arm”: the ERA, created by Regulation (EC) 881/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004. The Agency’s specific responsibilities are defined as follows: 1- Each national railway network developed independently, leading to wide differences in their technical systems, which has rendered cross-border operation both costly and difficult. Directives 96/48 and 2001/16 introduced the notion of interoperability and mandatory standards that must be adopted and implemented in Member States. The ERA’s mission is to draw up standards for conventional railway services and to revise standards developed before the Agency’s creation for high-speed railway services. As it lays out the parameters for this standardization process, the Agency must also take economic considerations into account. To be more specific, the ERA works in the following areas: infrastructure, energy, traction units and locomotives, passenger carriages, and telematics applications for passenger services. Standards for freight trains must also be revised, and rail traffic management procedures need to be standardized. Harmonizing signaling systems is a vital part of this strategy. We have adopted new signaling standards called ERTMS. The ERA is responsible for drawing up the operational specifications for these new standards, and evaluating all requests for changes from rail companies. And last, but not least, the Agency has been charged with developing standardized methods for recruiting, training, certifying and monitoring personnel working in the trans-European rail system. The ERA has begun this work by focusing initially on train conductors. 2- Rail safety is extremely high all across Europe. Individual countries have been essentially in charge of ensuring high safety performance at every level of responsibility, from state monitoring agencies down to the methods for tracking the safety record of every employee of every rail company, and certifying systems and procedures. New rail undertakings looking to operate on international rail links have run up against complex regulatory roadblocks that put them at a serious disadvantage. The 2004/49 EC directive on rail transport safety lays out the foundations for establishing common standards for both European states and rail companies. The directive also gives the ERA, working in conjunction with national safety monitoring authorities, the mandate of developing safety requirements that will be enforced in all Member States and will enable them to guarantee a level of safety at least as high as the excellent level currently provided throughout the European Union. These requirements concern safety monitoring methods, safety standards for all operators working within the European railway system, and Europe-wide certification procedures for railway undertakings. The Agency is also responsible for evaluating measures taken by national safety monitoring authorities, to ensure they respect the principles laid out in the aforementioned directives. 3 – The Agency’s mandate also gives it “transversal” responsibilities between interoperability and safety. The Agency is tasked with laying out procedures enabling national safety bodies to authorize existing rolling stock not subject to standardization requirements to cross national borders. It must also outline the principles for certification of maintenance workshops, which will be open to all rail companies, including new undertakings, with a guarantee that all work meets European safety requirements. When the Commission so requests, the Agency also evaluates projects applying for European subsidies to ensure they meet interoperability specifications.   How the ERA Operates In order to carry out these tasks, the Agency has recruited some 60 railway experts from across Europe. All have wide experience in the sector, thanks to their work with railway undertakings, rolling stock and railway equipment manufacturers, or national monitoring bodies. Because evaluating the economic impact of all proposals is vitally important, the staff also includes a team of highly qualified economists. ERA teams do not work shut away “in a bubble,” but quite to the reverse. They work in synergy with industry representatives, including national monitoring authorities, in working groups that have been established for all the key areas laid out above. The members of these working groups are designated by nine sector organizations that represent Europe’s rail undertakings, infrastructure managers, the railway industry, railway labor unions, etc. National authorities mandate their own qualified experts to represent them on each of the working groups. These groups meet several times a year, in Lille, and can work from a few months to three or four years on a given issue. The Agency uses their findings to make recommendations or submit opinions to the European Commission (DGTREN), after it has consulted its social partners and the representatives of concerned transport users. The Commission then brings these proposals before the Interoperability Committee, which is comprised of representatives from Member States, the European Commission, and railway industry representatives. This committee, which meets several times a year in Brussels, issues its opinions on the projects put forward to the Commission by the ERA. Once the Commission has approved a proposal and had it translated into the EU’s official languages, it has force of law and is fully applicable by all Member States.   Governance The ERA is subject to the governance rules laid out in Regulation (EC) 881/2004, which was inspired by recommendations in the White Paper on European governance issued by the European Commission in 2001. The ERA is a Community agency, with full legal status. It has an Administrative Board whose primary duties are to appoint the Agency’s Executive Director, approve the Agency’s annual report issued at the close of each year, approve the Agency’s work program, and submit a proposal to the Commission for an annual operating budget, which is finalized after the Parliament and Council have given their approval. The Board is comprised of one representative from each Member State, four representatives from the Commission, and six representatives from the railway industry and other concerned sectors, but the latter do not have the right to vote. The Executive Director is appointed to head the Agency for a five-year term, under the supervision of the Administrative Board. The Executive Director submits an annual report to Parliament, which can call him in for consultation, as can the Council. The Agency’s staff is comprised of temporary agents who have the status of EU civil servants and are recruited for a five-year period.
As underscored by Gilles Savary, European Parliament Rapporteur for the program to establish the European Railway Agency, it was time to “build a European railway common house.” That common house is now in place. It is a unique place, where all the    representatives of the highly complex machine made up of railway systems and their monitoring mechanisms can come together and work hand in hand to make Europe’s railway network more efficient and more in tune with the needs of the citizens of our continent, with full respect for its environment.      
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