February 21. 2024. 8:32

The Daily

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Brussels aims to make night train dreams a reality



If transport modes were school children, and the European Commission’s mobility department their principal, trains would no doubt be their favourite pupil.

Trains may not be the quickest, but they’re unfailingly clean and presentable compared to their peers.

The aviation sector, on the other hand, is a brilliant student, but increasingly in trouble with the school authorities.

The car sector, once seen as the most gifted pupil in the school, is now wearing the teachers’ patience thin. To their credit, they have promised to clean up their act. And, it should be said, they bring in sizeable donations to the school.

The maritime sector is a quieter pupil, less attention-grabbing, but a crucial part of the classroom environment. They toil away in the background. If they get sick, the whole school notices.

As for walking, cycling, and public transport? The principal has nothing but good words for them, but that’s largely where the support ends.

To continue torturing this metaphor, the Commission wants their favourite pupil to meet their potential. And so, they’re pushing them to do more.

Last week, Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean announced that the EU will throw its support behind 10 rail pilot projects, expanding cross-border train options across the continent.

The projects comprise a mixture of day and night trains and will, according to the Commission, make rail connections across the EU faster, more frequent, and more affordable.

“While demand for green mobility is growing, we need the rail market to respond much better and much faster, especially for long and cross-border journeys,” the Transport Commissioner said, adopting a somewhat scolding tone.

“This is why the European Commission now wants to help rail companies create new international train connections – by day and by night – by breaking down the many barriers to cross-border rail,” she added.

The aim is to encourage travellers to ditch their car or forgo a trip to the airport in favour of riding the rails – the greenest way to travel long distances.

Under the scheme, those based in the Dutch and Belgian capitals will soon be able to take a night train to sunny Barcelona rather than relying on a more carbon-intensive flight.

Another sleeper option will whisk passengers from Paris to Milan, before going onwards to Venice. Connections will also be improved between Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, while in the east, upgraded trains will run between Romania, Hungary, and Austria.

A direct day train from the Portuguese capital to the Spanish capital will also be realised.

While the EU is happy to give the projects its stamp of approval, the European Commission has not allocated funding, nor set a specific timeframe for their completion.

Instead, the Commission is offering to help rail overcome the challenges inherent in cross-border cooperation through the “coordination of stakeholders” and the “assessment of compatibility with the legal framework”. The unglamorous realities that make travel work.

Should the projects come to a timely fruition, offering a cheaper, more convenient way to travel than competing options, rail might just elevate its station from teacher’s pet to the most popular child in class.

For a full list of the 10 EU pilot projects, click here.


German transport minister joins automotive outcry on pollution norms

When the European Commission proposed stricter limits for pollutants like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter in November last year, it looked like a win for the car industry.

Targets were weaker than NGOs had expected, leading green campaigners to blame the Commission for “caving into” the demands of the car industry.

Nevertheless, car manufacturers did not refrain from heavy criticism of the new norms.

Hildegard Müller, head of German automotive association VDA, went as far as calling them “anti-industry-policy” in a public statement made in early January.

The new ‘Euro 7’ rules, she said, would make the manufacturing of combustion engine cars more expensive and thereby dilute investments into boosting the production of electric vehicles.

Trade unions, too, have joined the lobby choir.

“There must be no misdirection of investments and skilled workers through incomprehensible requirements of a Euro 7 regulation for combustion engines,” said Jörg Hoffmann, head of Germany’s powerful IG Metall trade union.

Now, as the Commission’s post-adoption public feedback period ends this Thursday, Euro 7 is back on the German agenda.

Transport minister Volker Wissing reassured car manufacturers that he has their back.

“When the automotive industry warns that regulation makes vehicles unnecessarily expensive and hinders the acceleration of electric mobility, that should be taken very seriously,” Wissing told German news agency DPA this week.

“The EU Commission cannot, on the one hand, demand high climate protection targets and, on the other hand, prevent their achievement through regulation,” he added.

Within his government coalition, however, there is no agreement yet on the official position, according to German media.

They might still have time, though. The next regular meeting of EU transport ministers is only planned for the first of June.


Bigger cars see a reshaping of Brussels streets

A new reality has intervened in Brussels’ ongoing debate over how best to utilise city streets, with the Belgian capital converting certain roads for one-way traffic only.

While cars have grown (14% on average since the 1960s), Europe’s streets have not kept pace. This has led to a situation in which behemoth SUVs attempt to squeeze past each other on streets designed for horse and cart, often scraping one another or knocking the wing mirror off of parked cars.

Rather than allowing these potential road-rage black spots to continue, the city has decided to bar two cars from attempting to travel down some streets at the same time.

It’s not just Brussels that is reorienting itself in response to car manufacturers’ mantra that bigger is better. In the UK, plans are afoot to expand car parking spaces to meet the more generous frames of modern vehicles.


A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Car repairers condemn automakers for reluctance to share data

EU regulators must compel car manufacturers to share vehicle-generated data with independent repairers to avoid raising costs for car owners and imperilling businesses, repair companies have said.

European regulator rules out single-pilot flying by 2030

Europe’s aviation regulator has ruled out an industry push to allow planes to be crewed by just one pilot by 2030 but said it is considering allowing limited single-person operation for parts of flights as early as 2027.

New diesel lorries to be allowed until at least 2040

Lorries running on fossil fuels will continue to be allowed beyond 2035, with a potential phase-out coming in 2040 at the earliest, a draft proposal by the European Commission on revised CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles shows.

Price cap on Russian refined fuels set to disrupt trade

The European Union’s ban on imports of Russian refined oil products, including diesel and jet fuel, will disrupt global flows and could hurt Moscow more than an embargo on crude oil.

Electric car sales gain pace, despite hurdles

The electrification of the auto industry is gathering pace, particularly in Europe, where the sale of new cars running on petrol and diesel will end in 2035.