The European Commission wants the continent’s main railway axes to be single-track, in the name of trade fluidity, to avoid difficult transfers to Spain, Portugal, the Baltic countries or Ukraine.
As part of the renewal of its plan for the construction of the Trans-European Corridors (TEN-T), the Commission proposed to forget the planned connections with Russia and Belarus at the end of July. Instead, it wants to unify Moldova and Ukraine, bringing one of these main axes to the port of Mariupol, destroyed and occupied by Moscow.
According to this text, which will be discussed by states and MEPs, Brussels wants new railway lines to be built adopting a standard gauge of 1.435 meters, and then the lines that are part of these lines should be adapted to this line. , was destined to become the norm across the continent.
Major railways in most European countries already adhere to an internal track gauge of 1.435m (selected as the standard in Britain in 1845 and widely used around the world ever since). It is also referred to as the “normal path”.
But other networks have different gauges at the edges of the continent, requiring transhipment or complex equipment when trains continue to run: the Baltic States, the former Soviet Union with Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (1,520 m), Finland (1,524 m), Ireland (1,600 m). and the Iberian Peninsula (1,668 m).
“The migration to the standard European line (…) aims at better interoperability of rail transport with the Union and neighboring countries,” explained an AFP spokesperson.
“Integrated European Network”
“Difficulties in exporting Ukrainian grain, coupled with currently incompatible rail gauges, illustrate the importance of these efforts,” he pointed out.
A reversal of history when we were still considering the construction of the “Russian Gauge” line (1.520m) through Slovakia to connect Ukraine to Vienna, Austria. There was talk then of easy import of Chinese goods by rail.
Beyond the new lines, once the new TEN-T plan is adopted, the states concerned will have two years to present a transfer plan to Brussels. The commission insisted that they would be able to decide on a “margin of appreciation” and timetable. But they must justify the possible denial with the support of socio-economic analysis.
“The long-term objective is to create an integrated European network,” says the European text. A completely isolated Ireland didn’t care.
In practice, Spain has already built its new lines, connecting the port of Barcelona with France by a fixed line. At the other end of the continent, the future rail Baltica link should cross three Baltic states from north to south, connect them to the Polish network, and adopt a fixed route.
Replacing the rest of the network is symbolically important but difficult to achieve in the short term, say Estonian Infrastructure Minister Reina Sikut and Latvian Transport Minister Talis Lingaids, according to Estonian public broadcaster ERR.
If it’s not talking about big money, the Commission is dangling European subsidies in the name of removing “barriers to mobility”.
A problem to be avoided is the emergence of compatibility problems within the same country, between European corridors rebuilt on a standard route and lines of local interest keeping their 19th-century route.
The text should be captured on 27 September.
Finns, whose rail network is only connected to Swedish Railways by a single line in the north of the country, have already voiced their disagreement. Their transport minister, Timo Haraka, is calling for an exception, deeming it “impossible from an economic point of view or from an operational point of view” to change the route.