Staying on track: Cross-continent railway travel is an important goal in the European Commission’s mobility strategy, but European national railway companies are not yet a fully integrated network. Given the importance of climate-friendly travel, how can the EU create a reliable and integrated European railway network to make cross-continent railway travel more attractive?

Committee on Transport and Tourism

Chaired by Berre Wiels (BE)

The story of Junta

Junta was born in a little village in Thailand till on a sudden day a flood destroyed her house. Junta is only one of millions of little kids whose lives are affected by climate change. 

On the other side of the world you have Finn, a Danish boy living his best life. Finn has been an official member of EYP Denmark for years and thus has travelled a lot. Because trains are too expensive and time consuming, he always goes by plane. Every session, multiple sessions a year. What Finn does not know is that by doing this he was part of the destruction of Junta’s house. Because he did not know any better, he kept living his best life, not realising the impact he was having. This year Finn had to cancel the regional session in Wageningen as he wanted to change his way of travelling. His search for an alternative has not been easy since he does not own a car and train travel is too time-consuming and expensive.


The European Commission set out the goal to cut 90% of its emissions by 2050 as a part of the Green deal, making the transition to rail traffic inevitable. With rail traffic only contributing to  1%  of transport-related pollution (compared to 71% for cars and 12% for planes), it is a valuable contribution to reaching this goal. A return journey from London to Paris via Eurostar would produce 22kg CO2 per passenger, 91% less than an equivalent flight’s 244kg of CO2. But to actually reach this goal, more people will  have to travel using trains, as they account for only 5,4% of all transportation, while cars account for 87.2%.
With transport contributing around 5% to the European Union’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employing more than 10 million people in Europe, the transport system is critical to European businesses and global supply chains.
Multiple institutions operate cross-continental railway travel, such as the Gronau-Enschede line between Germany and the Netherlands, which operates on a local signalling system and other trains that have vehicles which are specifically equipped to run on multiple networks, such as the Saarbahn between Germany and France. However, rail networks across Europe remain underdeveloped. This emphasises the need of a clear integrated European railway network to avoid chaos between borders and to also reduce the general costs, developed by for example the constant change of electrification in each country. Due to the fact that different national networks have been designed with different voltages, this issue arises: international trains must be able to adjust to a wide range of currents, including 750 volts, 1.5 volts, 3 volts, 15 volts, and 25 volts, as well as the difference in gauges, which creates a tremendous problem when travelling across country. 
Furthermore the amount of subsidisation varies in each member state as the local train companies are under control of the national government, which leads to a variation in railway quality throughout the whole Union.


  • Rail traffic is the vehicles, passengers, or freight that are moving from place to place by railway. 
  • Rail freight are all goods transported by train.
  • The European Green Deal is the EU’s main new growth strategy to transition the EU economy to a sustainable economic model.
  • Track gauge is the distance between the inside faces of the rails
  • The Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) policy addresses the implementation and development of a Europe-wide network of railway lines, roads, inland waterways, maritime shipping routes, ports, airports and railroad terminals.

Key Actors and Stakeholders 

  • Consumers/travellers are the people that we need to convince to travel by train. It is they who select among the different options, prices, and travel times.
  • National:
    • Companies like Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen (NMBS)/ Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges (SNCB), Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) and Deutsche Bahn (DB) are private national railway companies who work under control of their local government.
    • Member States design policies to be implemented on the national level. They develop and maintain infrastructures such as roads, railways and ports; promote destinations to tourists, and ensure their safety.
  • International:
    • The European Railway Agency Database of Interoperability and Safety (ERADIS) ensures that the information relevant to the safety and interoperability of the railways in the Member States is accessible and transparent to all interested parties and stakeholders in the railway
    • The European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) is a single European signalling and speed control system that ensures coöperation of the national railway systems, reducing the general costs of the signalling systems, but also increasing the speed of trains, the capacity of infrastructure and the level of safety in rail transport.
    • The European Union Agency For Railways (ERA) divides the technical and legal framework for creating a railway area as mandated under European law.
    • The Directorate-General on Mobility and Transport, one of the offices of the European Commission, develops the EU-policy regarding transport and mobility and is responsible for the programmes that financially support trans-European networks, technological development and innovation

What has already been done? 

The European commission has already implemented an action plan on sustainable and smart rail transport, which builds upon the experience from the 2021 Year Of The Rail. The action plan itself focuses on two main pillars: 

  • The full and correct implementation of the existing European Union’s regulatory framework for railways, including the removal of any redundant national rules
  • The removal of obstacles to long-distance and cross-border passenger rail services.

Regarding the  second pillar, the European Union has announced they will mandate a ticketing system that is accessible for everyone with the same app. Here the example made by Germany, implementing the Deutschlandticket, is crucial in reaching this goal. With the Trans-European Transport Network’s (TEN-T) primary objective to close gaps, remove technical barriers and strengthen social, economic, and territorial cohesion in the EU, their influence will be crucial.  Furthermore the European Union  Agency for Railways (ERA) has established a multi-annual programme, covering the period from 2022-2024. With the main focus being the creation of a single European railway area this is a program that will alter the future of the European railway industry.
In the longer term, Poland’s Nevomo and Spain’s Zeleros are developing maglev rail systems and scalable Hyperloops. Despite Nevomo’s plans to develop a Hyperloop prototype in the future, they are currently developing a “magrail” system, which could be operational by 2025. With magnetic levitation technology, a train will be lifted off the track and propelled along by magnets.

What are the key challenges? 

The key challenges of transitioning to a community where rail traffic is a common medium of transportation will be the modification of the fragmented train network in Europe and the fight against road traffic, but also to raise awareness on the option of night trains as they often give a sustainable alternative for long flights.
Since freight trains are specifically designed to carry high cargo volumes over a great distance, rail traffic is the preferred method of long distance transportation for businesses. For short distance transportation, road traffic is the preferred method. It also comes with the benefit of door-to-door services. But also the fight against aviation and more specifically passenger flights will be crucial.
While it takes one and a half hours to fly from Brussels to Milan, it takes the full fourteen hours and a half  to take the train. But what most people don’t know is that the plane isn’t always the cheapest in terms of money. Classic families (two parents, two children) travel cheapest by car. But for someone who travels alone those costs may vary. Travelling from Amsterdam to Berlin by train will cost you between €50-€75, by car it will be around €75. But if you would travel to a closer destination, like from Amsterdam to Bruges, travelling by car (€37) will be cheaper than by train (€44). Even though the prices are almost the same, the time of travelling often determines this decision. Not to say that train travel is the most sustainable way of travelling, therefore we need to change people’s  behaviour.
Aside from this, the liberalisation of rail companies allowed different private monopolies to emerge for cross-country railway connections. Those monopolies raised the price, which led to less frequent train travelling like back in the eighties. Although the liberalisation of the train companies had a lot of downsides, the liberalisation of the aviation sector made the tickets way cheaper than they were before, this because air tickets are not subjected to VAT or paraffin taxes.

What now? 

  1. By 2025, how can the European Union (EU) achieve its goals regarding train travel, set out in the European Green Deal?
  2. How can national train companies work together to create an integrated, cross-country network?
  3. How should the European Union (EU) tackle the liberalisation of rail companies?
  4. How can the European Union (EU) take an example of Germany’s ‘Deutschlandticket’ and make train tickets affordable and attractive?

Further Research



Introductory Clauses to the resolution

  1. Noting with deep concern that only 5,4% of all transportation is done using railways,
  2. Stressing the problem of variety in railways throughout the European Union (EU), by:
    1. having three main types of track gauges,
    2. using different voltages for each member state,
  3. Referring to the difference of subsidisation in each member state,
  4. Aiming to reach a positive effect through alternative approaches to rail liberalisation as in the aviation sector,
  5. Taking into account that the European Commission on mobility and transport have already set out a step-by-step strategy in the European Green deal to cut its emissions,
  6. Further noting the action plan set out by the European Union  Agency for Railways (ERA) with the goal to make long-distance cross-border rail travel more attractive,
  7. Taking note of Germany’s successful implementation of the Deutschlandticket;