2021: the European Year of Rail

The EU has designated 2021 as the European Year of Rail to promote the use of trains as a safe and sustainable transport. Find out more.

Investing in railway and promoting trains as a sustainable, safe and modern mode of transport, is one of the goals of this year.

On 15 December, the European Parliament approved a proposal by the European Commission to designate 2021 as the European Year of Rail.


The decision, adopted by the  Council on 16 December, is linked to the EU’s efforts to promote eco-friendly modes of transport and achieve climate neutrality by 2050 under the European Green Deal.

Several activities have already been planned to promote rail across the EU to encourage its use by people and businesses.

Sustainable and safe mobility

Transport represents 25% of the EU greenhouse gas emissions. However, rail is responsible for only 0.4% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Rail is largely electrified and it is the only mode of transport that has considerably reduced its emissions since 1990. Rail can also play a significant role in sustainable tourism.

Thanks to the low number of incidents, rail is also the safest mode of land transport: only 0.1 fatalities per billion passengers/km are caused by railway accidents, against 0.23 by bus accidents, 2.7 by car accidents and 38 by motorbikes (2011-2015). In 2018, the Parliament approved new measures to strengthen rail passenger rights.

Rail connects remote areas, assuring internal and cross-border cohesion of the European regions. However, only 7% of passengers and 11% of goods travel by rail. Obsolete infrastructure, outdated business models and high maintenance costs are some of the obstacles to be overcome to create a unified European railway area.

Road transport carries 75% of inland freight: a significant part of it should shift onto rail and inland waterways to help reduce emissions in this sector as a more sustainable method of transport. Substantial investments and implementation of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) are needed to achieve this.

Rail during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 crisis has shown that rail can ensure rapid transport of essential goods such as food, medicines and fuel in exceptional circumstances.

The sector has been struck hard by the crisis, with passenger numbers going down substantially due to measures restricting travel. Still, it will have a role to play in the sustainable recovery from the pandemic.

Why 2021 was chosen as the European Year of Rail

2021 is essential for the EU rail policy as it represents the first full year of implementation of the rules in the Fourth Railway Package. The legislative package aims to creating a fully integrated European Railway Area, removing the remaining institutional, legal and technical obstacles and supporting economic growth.