2021 marks the European Year of Rail, an initiative that highlights one of the most sustainable and innovative forms of transport. Rail is responsible for less than 0.5% of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions in the EU yet is the backbone of movement between member states. While rail will play a major role in achieving the European Union’s efforts under the European Green Deal, there are plenty of other important benefits of building upon rail networks in Europe.
The EU’s focus on rail works in tandem with initiatives to encourage cross-border connectivity. EU border initiatives provide citizens with multiple benefits: citizens can travel across borders, access healthcare services in other member states and take advantage of employment opportunities outside of their home member state.
Rail is a safe way to travel and commute and provides passengers with a comfortable and affordable method of transport. The EU’s Trans-European Transport network (TEN-T) connects people and businesses from all across the EU. While this has touristic uses, importantly it is particularly useful to those who have to cross borders in their everyday lives. For instance, improved rail links help with the daily commute of cross-border workers.
Smaller cross-border railway networks make a large impact on the lives of citizens who live in border areas. A study published in 2018 highlighted the importance of improving cross-border interaction through smaller rail networks which are currently non-operational, otherwise known as “missing links”. The year of rail could be an opportunity to assess which links could be strengthened. The Year of Rail provides the momentum for more attention to be given to these cross-border rail connections. As Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg MEP mentions, a large portion of the EU population lives in border regions and these citizens would benefit in their daily life from well-connected border regions.
The Year of Rail will further promote connectivity across Europe, highlighting the positives of reducing cross-border barriers, fostering further solidarity among Europeans and help reduce greenhouse emissions.