Connecting Europe by rail, the future of public transport in rural areas, and the falling price of EVs

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The ability to cross borders seamlessly tends to be described, at least in Brussels, in lofty terms. It is positioned as a crowning achievement of the European project, one that allows us to imagine ourselves outside of geography, to live as “Europeans” uninhibited by boundaries or national restrictions.

The pandemic has injured these romantic notions, assaulting them with border checks and travel bans. In a time of crisis, interlocking Europe became a series of islands, surrounded by a bureaucratic cordon sanitaire.

This fragmented backdrop has proved a challenge for the ‘Connecting Europe Express’, a flagship initiative of the European Year of Rail.

A celebration of cross-border travel and Europe’s impressive rail network, the Connecting Europe Express initiative will see a train travel to various cities across the continent. It was originally meant to set off on its journey next month; safety concerns have seen that pushed back.

This week, the official route was released – the train will cross 26 countries in 36 days, holding events at each stop.

“Crisscrossing the continent, from Lisbon to Bucharest and from Berlin to Paris, the Connecting Europe Express will follow routes that bind us together – whether as countries, businesses or people,” said EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean.

“While a symbol for connectivity, this train also serves as a reminder that we still have a long way to go and much work to do before rail becomes the transport option of choice for Europeans,” she added.

The full route is now available online – a timely reminder of both the depth and fragility of our connections.

Railing against the system

An open letter penned by a whopping 36 environmental NGOs was sent to EU transport ministers on Monday (10 May), calling on them to improve train services to facilitate a shift from air to rail.

“EU citizens demand attractive connections, convenient travel times, fair prices, easy booking options and protected passenger rights. This requires fair market conditions for rail compared to airlines and road travel,” states the letter, signed by NGOs including Greenpeace, Germanwatch, and Transport & Environment

The letter, which comes ahead of the EU Council of Transport Ministers meeting on 3 June, asks the transport decision-makers to commit to at least 30 new lines and night trains between 2021 and 2025, reduce track access charges for international trains, and phase out flight subsidies and short-haul flights.

“Governments need to deliver on the European Year of Rail and start a true renaissance of rail in Europe. The options for improving rail are right in front of us on a silver platter,” Lena Donat of signatory NGO Germanwatch told EURACTIV.

Public transport on demand

The European Parliament’s Transport Committee sat yesterday (primarily in their makeshift home offices, as the parliament continues to meet remotely). In addition to discussing the European Court of Auditor’s scathing assessment of the roll-out of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, the committee considered the issue of providing public transport to low-density areas.

Lawmakers’ focus on connecting highly populated areas is a logical choice but runs the risk of overlooking sparsely populated regions, according to a report commissioned by the committee.

The report concludes that technology could be the transport saviour for rural towns, freeing them from the tyranny of the timetable.

“On-demand services and shared mobility seem to be best placed to meet the current needs of the citizens living in these areas,” states the report, which calls the traditional public transport set up “increasingly obsolete and costly”. Read the full report here.

Greener cities post-COVID?

A recent YouGov survey found entirely unsurprising results given authorities’ advice that activities are safer outdoors – most Europeans want mayors to allocate more green space in their cities post-COVID.

According to the survey, 82% would like to see more greenery, while over 60% want more space for walking and public transport. Those who have suffered from COVID-19 tend to be even more in favour than their counterparts.

Romans are most favourable towards improved public transport (no comment), while Londoners want the British capital to be more pedestrian-friendly.

“Citizens are sick of breathing dirty air and want mayors to put them first, not cars. We’re at a make-or-break moment as countries are gearing up to spend billions of euros of green recovery funds,” said Barbara Stoll, director of the Clean Cities Campaign, the organisation that commissioned the survey.

Read more about the survey results here.

Road transport: the man with the electric van

A new study by BloombergNEF has found that electric cars and vans will be cheaper to manufacture than fossil-fuel vehicles by 2027 at the latest.

Falling battery costs and dedicated production lines will also cut the cost of buying an electric vehicle, according to the study, commissioned by green NGO Transport & Environment.

“EVs will be a reality for all new buyers within six years. They will be cheaper than combustion engines for everyone, from the man with a van in Berlin to the family living in the Romanian countryside,” said Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and emobility at T&E.

Read the study here.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

‘European Year of Rail’ fails to stem train company COVID losses

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt by European train companies, with 2021 figures released by the rail sector showing losses across the board, despite EU attempts to promote rail transport.

Spain pours billions into fight for slice of European electric vehicle sector

Spain is moving aggressively to land new battery and electric vehicle plants, using billions of European Union pandemic relief funds to avoid being left behind as the global auto sector undertakes the biggest technology transformation in a century.

Germany charges ahead in decarbonising domestic flights with new e-fuel roadmap

One-third of fuel used in domestic flights by 2030 will come from sustainable sources, according to a new German roadmap on the market ramp-up of power-to-liquid (PtL) kerosene unveiled on Friday (7 May).

Italy to introduce own travel ‘green pass’ by end of May

Italy will introduce their own travel green certificate by the end of May, Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced on Tuesday (4 May) in a press conference following the G20 tourism ministers’ meeting in Rome.

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