Interoperability of the rail system within the European Union (Recast)

In “Transport and Tourism - TRAN”

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The aim of the Directive on the interoperability of the rail system within the European Union (recast) is to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the Single European Railway Area in the field of technical compatibility, defined as interoperability.

In 2001, 2004 and 2007, three legislative ‘railway packages’ were adopted to open up the national markets and make railways more competitive and interoperable at the EU level, while maintaining a high level of safety. However, the modal share of rail in intra-EU transport has remained modest. This prompted the Commission to put forward the Fourth Railway Package in order to enhance the quality and efficiency of rail services by removing the remaining obstacles, in particular of technical and administrative nature.

The European Commission published its legislative proposal on 30 January 2013 in the framework of the Fourth Railway Package.

This Directive aims to:

  • establish a common approach to interoperability and safety rules to increase economies of scale for railway undertakings operating in the EU;
  • decrease administrative costs;
  • accelerate administrative procedures and avoid disguised discrimination;
  • expand the European Union Agency for Railways' powers.

The Commission’s proposal to recast Directive 2008/57/EC may be summarised as follows:

  • further provisions were to be specified in the technical specifications for interoperability (TSIs) to cover existing subsystems and to enable railway undertakings to check compatibility between vehicles and routes;
  • the use of Agency opinions pending the amendment of TSIs as a result of deficiencies discovered, was clarified and the cases of possible non-application of TSIs have been reduced;
  • the introduction and role of national rules, and the procedures for their withdrawal and their publication were clarified, as were the circumstances which trigger a new EC declaration of verification;
  • the placing on the market of mobile subsystems could be done by both railway undertakings and manufacturers;
  • a new provision introduced the notion of vehicle authorisation for placing on the market. This authorisation is issued by the Agency and contains all information needed later by the railway undertaking to place a vehicle in commercial service;
  • the role of railway undertakings and infrastructure managers in checking the technical compatibility of the vehicle with the route and the safe integration of the vehicle in the system in which it is intended to operate was clarified;
  • two new articles concerning conformity assessment bodies replaced and complemented some existing provisions to include the provisions of the new legislative framework for the marketing of products as defined in Decision 768/2008/EC;
  • articles on European Vehicle Number (EVN) and registers were updated;
  • as a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty, a certain number of the annexes of Directive 2008/57/EC in the form of implementing acts were to be adopted by the Commission.

The European Parliament (EP) adopted its first reading position on 26 February 2014 and subsequently its proposal on second reading vote on 28 April 2016. This legislative proposal did not raise major problems in the European Parliament and its first resolution was adopted by a large majority. Among other things, the Parliament underlined the need to improve the interlinking of the national rail networks as well as access thereto, including for passengers with disabilities. It underlined the need to enable EU citizens, economic operators, regional and local authorities to benefit fully from the establishment of an area without internal frontiers and to attain the objective of territorial cohesion.

Moreover, the Parliament observed that the EU should strive to define an optimal level of technical harmonisation in order to facilitate, improve and develop rail transport services within the Union and with third countries. This would also contribute to the progressive creation of the internal market in equipment and services for the construction, renewal, upgrading and operation of the EU rail system.

The Council debates started in March 2013; after adopting a general approach in June 2013, it reached a political agreement on this file in June 2014. It published its position on 15 December 2015. As regards authorisation procedures, in its position the Council opted for a dual system: the Agency will act as a “one-stop shop” for issuing vehicle authorisations for placing on the market for rail cross-border operations. Nevertheless, national safety authorities (NSAs) will retain an important role in carrying out the necessary assessment linked to the issuance of these authorisations. For domestic operations, the companies will have a choice to submit their applications to the Agency or to their respective NSA.

The Directive 2016/797 was officially signed by the Council and the EP on 11 May 2016 and entered into force the twentieth day after the publication in the Official Journal, which occured on the 26 May 2016. The rules on authorisation will be operational within three years after their entry into force, with a possible extension of one year prior to a Member State’s notification to the Commission and to the Agency.


Further reading:

Author: Damiano Scordamaglia, Members' Research Service,

As of 20/11/2019.