The European Union has influenced Britain’s railway for more than two years. Some Railfuture members recently sat in on transport discussions at the European Parliament in Brussels (photo shows Parliament building, left, and the entrance to the adjacent Luxembourg railway station on the right).
Many people associate the European Union directive with the fragmented railway in Britain with the separation of trains and track, which has been taken further with liberalisation and competition in the European regional rail market. Less well known is that rail franchises in Britain are let for a maximum of 15 years because of the EU limits on public service contracts. Passengers in Britain now see a single railway timetable change in December each year, to harmonise with EU mainland counties and make cross-border rail travel easier to plan. The EU has also given travellers rights to compensation, with air passengers being entitled to €250 for flights delayed by three hours, for example. The EU affects our lives in many ways yet few people know how it works.
Recently three Railfuture members, who were making a personal trip to Brussels, accepted an invitation arranged for them by British MEPs to observe one of the Transport & Tourism Committee's monthly sessions at the European Parliament there. These committees have a similar function to committees in the UK Houses of Parliament. They scrutinise and amend proposed EU legislation as well as investigate and report on specific topics, for instance, cross-border rail travel.
Unfortunately, on the day Railfuture visited the European Parliament (along with two Belgian rail campaigners) there were no rail specific items on the agenda. However, it was a chance for Railfuture to understand how the EU works in order to work and lobby productively with MEPs in Britain. Railfuture gained a better insight into the role of the European Parliament and how it influences the outcome of legislation affecting rail travel within and across EU member states. Railfuture intends to make use of this when lobbying our MEPs in the future.
The morning session began with votes on matters previously studied by the Committee that would then be sent on to the European Commission and Council of Ministers. It was followed by two series of presentations and questions. The first one was on proposals to improve the regulation of passenger ship safety. The second one covered air passenger safety and the Dutch Safety Board report on the 2014 Malaysian Airlines plane disaster in the Ukraine. The afternoon session was devoted to “The contribution of the transport system to the objectives of the EU 2030 framework on climate and energy”. Much of this discussion focussed on the proposals which the EU will be making to the United Nations Climate Conference (known as COP 21) in Paris in December 2015.
On the evening before, the Railfuture members attended a presentation given by the Brussels Transport Authority known as STIB/MIVB. They were invited by members of REBO (The Flemish Travellers Association), which is one of four Belgian organisations also affiliated to the European Passengers Federation, of which Railfuture is also a member. The authority outlined their plans to buy a considerable number of new trams and buses as well as expand and modernise their depots over the next few years. Afterwards REBO gave a comprehensive presentation of the knowledge they had built up from an April 2015 rail trip to Prague, Olomouc and Brno, which provided Railfuture with a comprehensive view of the public transport offering in these three Czech Republic cities.
The Railfuture members also took the opportunity to look around Schuman station, which is next to the European Commission building at Berlaymont, and just a short walk from the Parliament building.
Whilst Brussels’ Luxembourg station, which is 200 metres from the Parliament building, had been completely rebuilt into an impressive modern fit-for-purpose station, the nearby Schuman station left a great deal to be desired, although it had the advantage of also being a stop on the Métro.
Schumann station was a two-platform station serving a route through Brussels with trains stopping at Nord, Central and Midi stations. After around eight years of construction there is now a separate two-track line, with two platforms, serving Brussels International Airport and other destinations such as Antwerp. This means that from April 2016 (see note below), when it opens, both the European Parliament and the European Commission will have a direct, 15-minute, rail service to the airport, which is increasingly vital now that the EU consists of 28 countries.
Note: when this article was written the new Schuman–Josaphat tunnel was expected to open in December 2015 but it actually opened on 4th April 2016 because of the delay in conducting safety evacuation tests.
Below is a series of photos taken earlier in 2015 by Jerry Alderson showing construction work.
An early view of the new rail bridge for airport train service being constructed over Metro lines at Brussels Schuman Metro station.
This view from a Métro platform at Schuman station shows the new bridge crossing the tracks that will carry the new train service to the airport.
This view from a Métro platform at Schuman station looks in the other direction and shows the new concourse above the metro line.
Rebuilding work at Schuman station had seen the ticket office temporarily moved to a portacabin but as construction works near completion it is back inside the station again.
The two new airport-line platforms at Schuman are almost complete – four months before opening.
This night-time shot from outside Schuman station five months earlier shows the new route (in darkness) next to the brightly-lit existing route.