Increased rail traffic can both reduce the climate impact and strengthen Europe’s economy. In that light, it is welcome that the EU Commission now wants to set ambitious targets. But cross-border rail traffic is a complex issue with many pitfalls. In a new proposal, the commission seeks solutions to known problems. However, Europaforum Norra Sweden wonders how a lagging railway network will cope with the increased load – and who will take responsibility for making it work.

Something must be done about the railway infrastructure – the EU Commission and the political network Europaforum Norra Sverige (EFNS) agree on that. Anyone who travels or sends goods by train knows what the lack of capacity leads to: congestion, delays and poorer service. At the same time, the climate threat means that it is necessary to increase the amount of transport on the emission-free railway. For the market, it is then central that the transports are both reliable and efficient.

Cross-border rail transport is complex due to regional differences, different rules, different ways of organizing it, geographical challenges and the need for coordination between countries. It is no easy knots that the EU Commission is now trying to unravel – but important ones.

The EU Commission’s proposal for a regulation on how rail capacity should be used contains many parts that the political network Europaforum norra Sweden (EFNS) is positive about. There are clear targets for increased transport by rail. There are parts aimed at strengthening dialogue to ensure effective capacity utilization. There is also a proposal for a unified transport system to facilitate cross-border transport. Other parts of the proposal, however, raise questions.

– According to the proposal, infrastructure managers are responsible for building, managing and maintaining railways. We are critical of the fact that the proposal does not make any boundaries in which infrastructure managers are to be covered, says Erik Lövgren, the association of municipalities Västernorrland and rapporteur in EFNS.

The issue is central because the proposal places demands on the railway infrastructure that Sweden today does not live up to at all.

– We have many single-track lines, narrow tunnels or bridges that cannot handle modern trains. We have too few meeting tracks and stations that do not reach the new standard required, Erik Lövgren says.

The requirements set by the proposal would mean increased stress on large parts of Swedish railways. Over a long period of time, the resources for maintenance and investment have not been sufficient. EFNS therefore believes that it is necessary for the states to be given time to gradually implement the new rules. They need to be given the opportunity to pay off the large maintenance debt before the railway network is subjected to a greater load than it already has difficulty coping with today.

Another input from EFNS is the importance of having several perspectives in long-term planning: investments, maintenance, capacity allocation and military readiness. This is the only way to get an overview and prevent planning and efforts that work against each other, according to EFNS in its statement on the matter.

In short: this is how EFNS views the proposal:

• EFNS welcomes that the EU Commission proposes clear targets for more transport to take place by rail. If the EU is to achieve the set climate goals, a transition to climate-neutral transport is crucial.

• EFNS is positive about the parts of the proposal that will facilitate dialogue between managers and users of infrastructure, with the aim of solving problems and challenges linked to the capacity.

• EFNS sees the benefit of the proposal for a unified transport system that will facilitate cross-border transport.

• EFNS believes that it is important that ports and hubs between different modes of transport are included in the planning. When legislation is coordinated in the future, the importance of these junctions for efficient transport should be taken into account.

• The member states’ organizations for preparedness and defense need to be involved in the dialogue and planning of traffic across national borders. It is important that questions about military defence, preparedness and mobility are included when the proposal is to be implemented.

The position paper was adopted on November 9, 2023.

Find the position paper here: Europaforum Northern Sweden’s views on the European Commission’sproposal for a regulation on the use of railway infrastructure capacity in the Single European Railway Area