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Thursday, 25 February 2010 - Brussels OJ edition

Railway safety, including the European signalling system (debate)

  Ivo Belet (PPE).(NL) The tragic accident in Buizingen obliges all of us – Europe included – to open an investigation. This tragedy cost the lives of 18 people, and we owe it to those victims to learn lessons from the disaster in the short term and to ensure that safety is guaranteed on Belgian and European railway lines.

As we know, and you have already said, it is not Europe’s fault that the automatic stop system has yet to be fully introduced in Belgium. Yet this does not mean that Europe is not now required to act; quite the reverse. We expressly call for the European Commission, too, to now carry out an evaluation, which must provide the answers to several very specific questions. For example, as you know, we have obliged railway companies – including private firms – to fully equip their trains with the new European Train Control System (ETCS) as of 2013, yet we already know that Europe’s railway lines will not have been equipped with that system by then.

I wish to cite two figures. At the present time, Commissioner, only 2 800 kilometres of railway in the whole of Europe has been equipped with this new European safety system. The Belgian rail network alone, with its 3 400 kilometres, is larger than that. It is clear, therefore, that we in Europe are not ready for this and that therefore our trains will be unable, or insufficiently able, to communicate with these new signalling installations. This necessitates a thorough evaluation.

Commissioner, we must also dare to investigate whether the forthcoming competition between railway companies has maybe increased the pressure on staff. Should we perhaps consider introducing driving hours and rest periods for train drivers at European level, as we did for lorry drivers? In short, this accident obliges the European Union to do some soul-searching and carry out an evaluation, and there must also be the readiness and political will to make adjustments if necessary.

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