Euronauts in space, rail rights result & a big boar bang

Your weekly update of all things transport

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The big news of last week was the European Parliament’s granting of the green light to Ursula von der Leyen’s new Commission, which has now started work

New transport Commissioner Adina-Ioana Vălean said she is ready to “roll up her sleeves”, while her predecessor, Violeta Bulc, signed off with a video message and home-made pancakes for her team.

Spaced-out 

The European Space Agency announced a beefed-up budget for extraplanetary exploration and development. A new spacecraft, space station and even European astronauts on the moon are part of the plans.

Despite Brexit, the UK will remain a part of the Agency, which although closely aligned with EU policy, is not an official institution. Britain actually agreed on its biggest contribution ever to the ESA.

Tesla-founder Elon Musk is testing the patience of astronomers everywhere with his Starlink satellite network, intended to bring internet access to every part of the globe. The vast network of orbiters is already affecting stargazers and jeopardising data collection.

US actor George Clooney has revealed that the paycheck for his starring role in Nespresso coffee adverts has gone towards funding satellite observations of Sudanese warlords. Is the Batman & Robin actor a real-life Dark Knight?

Driven

EU ministers failed yesterday to come to an agreement on updating road charging rules. The idea is to ditch time-based vignettes by 2023 and move to distance-charging. MEPs are waiting in the wings to negotiate, having agreed their position in October 2018.

Air pollution is a growing concern in the EU and although domestic heating is a large factor, the transport sector also plays it part, depending on where you are. Read our Special Report on the issue here.

The renewable energy directive was only just updated but a high-ranking Commission official says further tweaks are probably needed. One of the key aims was to increase the use of renewable energy in transport.

Audi announced 9,500 job cuts in Germany by 2025 in order to raise billions for electric car investment. It will set up an early retirement scheme to help ease the shift and also insists 2,000 direct replacement jobs will be created.

Norway’s justice minister became one of the first high-profile European buyers of Tesla’s divisive new Cybertruck. Jøran Kallmyr admitted that the pickup is “at first terribly ugly” but insisted that it got “cooler and cooler” the more he looked at it.

The traffic problem in Brussels can be seen in a slightly different light after it emerged that eight of the regional government’s ministers have access to 32 vehicles between them.

Better news in Paris though, as city mayor Anne Hidalgo revealed that there are now more than 1,000km of cycling infrastructure in the French capital.

Ireland’s road safety authority concluded that e-scooters should be banned from footpaths, confined to bike paths and 30 km/h zones, and capped at 20 km/h. They are currently not legal on public roads.

Back in Brussels, commuters got yet another e-mobility option to consider for their daily ride to work: Villo bikes now have an electric alternative.

Sky-high

Berlin’s long-awaited Brandenburg airport will open its doors for the first time on Halloween 2020, after several years of delay. The stuttering project has dispelled long-held stereotypes of German efficiency and even become a synonym for failure.

Eindhoven airport was briefly on lockdown after a suspicious package was found. It turned out to be a herb grinder, thankfully.

Flights of less than 750 km make up 38% of the trips leaving Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, which emit 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 per year. That is 1% of the Netherlands’ total output.

Canada’s Harbour Air will next week trial what it claims is the world’s first commercial electric airplane flight, using a specially designed seaplane. The firm hopes to convince both Canada and the US to start regulating e-flights.

Italy’s Salvatore Sciacchitano took over the presidency of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, pledging to “continue the excellent work” of his predecessor, Nigeria’s Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu. 

The Shipping News

According to a leak of the Commission’s draft Green Deal, the new executive will extend the ETS to the maritime sector and reduce the number of free allowances allocated to airlines, as pledged in von der Leyen’s mission letters. No mention of aviation fuel tax though.

Poland’s shipyards are in trouble and the reelected government has pledged to help them. But as our partner in Poland reports, the rescue plan lacks a detailed vision and a proposed link with offshore wind energy is still tenuous at best.

The International Maritime Organisation’s new rules on low-sulphur fuels come into play on 1 January. Here is how global refiners have started to prep for the increased demand for their wares.

On Track

The Council finally brokered a general position on rail passenger rights, with special attention paid to people with disabilities. So-called ‘through-tickets’ will also be promoted. Read the full position here before negotiations with MEPs kick off.

Spain’s high-speed rail network got a shot in the arm after three operators won bids to start running services between the nation’s main cities.

Return Eurostar services between Amsterdam and London will reportedly start in April 2020, after Deutsche Bahn’s website seemed to spill the beans early. If accurate, then expect three daily services without the need to get off in Brussels for border checks.

And watch out for the boars. A high-speed train in Belgium hit one of the wild piggies, which did so much damage to the locomotive that it could not carry on.

What else I’m reading

  • Battery maker Northvolt scales up ambition [FT]
  • How UK technology fuelled Turkey’s drone power rise [Guardian]
  • Denmark to trial battery-operated trains [Rail Tech]

Next stops

The Alitalia state aid case reaches a head in Italy. The Commission says that it is in contact with national authorities but stressed it is their responsibility.

Look out for a special space edition of the Transport Brief next week, as I head to Helsinki for EU Space Week.

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