Greening freight package: Council adopts position for a more efficient management of rail infrastructure capacity and traffic

The Council adopted today its negotiating position (general approach) on a new regulation on the use of railway infrastructure capacity in the single European railway area. This piece of legislation forms part of the Commission’s ‘greening freight’ package together with proposals on a harmonised system to count EU emissions, on maximum weights and dimensions for heavy-duty vehicles, and the revision of the combined transport directive.

This is another key agreement reached in the Council under our presidency. The new law will equip the single European railway area with better and more efficient tools to achieve our shared objective for a shift to more sustainable modes of transport, especially rail, and ensuring that our ambitious targets on climate neutrality are ultimately met.

  • Georges Gilkinet, Belgian deputy prime minister and minister of mobility

The new law aims to increase the availability of infrastructure through better planning and allocation processes, as well as improved cross-border coordination and is expected to significantly contribute to a more efficient management of rail infrastructure capacity and traffic. The new regulation’s more specific objectives are to:

  • enable more effective capacity management procedures
  • strengthen incentives to improve performance of rail infrastructure and rail transport services
  • introduce more effective mechanisms for coordination between stakeholders, in particular across borders, and
  • support the deployment of digital tools enabling better capacity and traffic management

The main elements of the Commission proposal, namely defining better planning and allocation processes, building on the industry-led “Timetable redesign” project, as well as incentivising improved performance and coordination, have been preserved in the Council’s position. The Council introduced nevertheless several changes to the proposal with the following main objectives:

  • simplifying, where possible, the planning and allocation process and, in doing so, reducing the administrative workload of the competent authorities and operational stakeholders involved
  • specifying further the contribution of the European network of infrastructure managers (ENIM) to the capacity management
  • taking into account national security and defence aspects
  • granting member states sufficient flexibility to define general objectives and policy orientations for rail capacity management, while ensuring the required harmonisation at EU level
  • reinforcing the coordination between member states, in particular to replace the mechanisms established in the previous regulation, which will be repealed
  • entrusting the European network of rail regulatory bodies (ENRRB) with the main tasks related to performance review

Next steps

Following today’s adoption of the Council’s negotiating mandate (general approach), the incoming presidency can begin talks (‘trilogues’) with the European Parliament on this file.

Background information

The Commission proposal is part of the ‘greening freight’ legislative package adopted in July 2023 covering several modes of transport, including the revision of the weights and dimensions directive, as well as the harmonisation of emissions accounting in transport (‘CountEmissions EU’ proposal). The last proposal of the package on the revision of the combined transport directive was submitted in November 2023.

Cross-border rail passenger traffic is on the rise but still only around 10% of total rail passenger traffic in the EU. Cross-border rail freight is also considered particularly struggling to compete with other transport modes. The specific proposal therefore aims to increase cross-border rail transport with new measures for better management and coordination: better use of resources, increased reliability, increased cross-border coordination under normal or disruptive situations, increased role of digital tools, better cooperation between stakeholders, increased transparency on performance of infrastructure, increased level of competition especially in long-distance passenger rail. In the European Parliament (EP), the Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) has the lead responsibility. Tilly Metz (Green / LU) was appointed rapporteur. The EP adopted its negotiating mandate at the plenary session on 12 March 2024, broadly in support of the Commission proposal.