Focusing on "glossy" international rail projects could hinder the development of suburban railways that are essential to tackle congestion and environmental problems in European cities, according to new research.

The third railway package focuses predominantly on international services and problems related to cross-border operation, despite the fact that the rules will also, in many cases, be extended to suburban and regional railways.

This could severely hinder the development of such domestic short-distance operations, according to rail and public transport operators. 

A new study, conducted by the International Association for Public Transport (UITP) in the frame of the European Rail Research Advisory Group (ERRAC) and presented on 9 January 2007, reveals that there are nine times more passengers using commuter and regional rail services (to carry out short journeys of around 25km on average) than those on international or long-distance trips. 

Short-distance European railways carry nearly seven billion passengers per year, against 1.25 billion passengers over the past 25 years for France's TGV, for example. 

Despite the importance of this sector, its specificities are being ignored by EU rules, says the UITP. 

A particular concern for the business sector is the Parliament's decision to extend legislation on international passenger rights and certification of train crews to all domestic services. 

Application of ill-adapted, overly bureaucratic rules could hinder the development of a transport sector crucial to helping European cities deal with congestion and pollution problems

According to UITP figures, the use of regional and commuter trains helps Europe avoid each year: 

  • 24 million km of traffic jams;
  • 30 million tonnes of CO2, and;
  • 1,312 human deaths and 36,800 injuries.