The reduction of railway regulation in Europe

21 November 2013  •  Author: Christoph Kaupat, European Railway Agency Safety Unit

The European institutions have identified that one of the major obstacles to reach a single European railway market is the large number of railway rules, which exist in the Member States of the European Union. Estimations are as high as 2,000 national safety rules, which still exist today. At the same time, there are already a wide range of harmonised rules.

Nevertheless, the existence of two levels of rules lead to confusion, a duplication of effort and these rules can in some cases contradict each other. The traditional rule-based approach can also undermine the vision contained within the European rail regulatory framework, which is based on safety culture and safety responsibilities expressed in regulated Safety Management Systems with a strong emphasise on risk evaluation. For this reason, the national safety rules should be gradually replaced by rules based on common standards and be dramatically reduced.

As a first step, the European Commission has started to collect national railway rules in a database called Notif-IT. The Member States of the European Union, Norway and the administration of the Channel Tunnel have already uploaded more than 1,300 of their rules to this database. Everybody who is interested can access this information freely.

Based on the available rules in Notif-IT and other sources of information, the European Railway Agency has studied the way in which national safety rules are published and made available. The results of this study have made clear that further work is urgently needed. For this reason, in 2011 the European Commission set up a Task Force (which included a representative of the UK Department for Transport). For two years, Member States’ experts discussed the concept of a rule and what national rules are still needed in addition to European harmonized legislation like Technical Specifications for interoperability (TSI), Common safety methods (CSM), Common Safety Targets (CST) etc. Finally, in the beginning of 2013 the Report of the European Commission’s Task Force on National Safety Rules was published. It has paved ahead a way forward for European railway regulation: Member States should notify any rules, which relate to their entire network as National Safety Rules. The Task Force has developed a list of categories to help Member States to reduce their rules and align those, which remain, with EU rules. This so-called «Rule Management Tool» identifies where European rules already exist. At the same time, Notif-IT has been improved to allow the publication and consultation of new draft rules to be published. Consequently, the European Commission is alerted at an early stage to rules which could create a barrier for railway undertakings and the concerned railway undertakings, infrastructure managers, trade unions or manufacturers have a way of getting involved in the rulemaking process of all Member States right from the beginning.

The Task force has also identified that many rules could be better managed between the infrastructure manager and various railway undertakings to regulate their operations based on their Safety Management Systems, perhaps through contractual agreements. Rules should reflect clear safety responsibilities so that need for rules applicable in specific circumstances is reduced, even for localized areas («local rules») or following accidents or incidents («urgent rules»). Last but not least there is no room for hidden rules because a rule needs to be publicly accessible to everybody.

The Task Force found out that there is presently still some overlap possible between rules e.g. about the transport of dangerous goods or about technical standards. These rules may interfere with railway rules; this shouldn’t be the case but by applying the Rule Management Tool and a case-by-case-analysis possible rule-conflicts can be resolved.

In order to make all interested railway stakeholders aware of the results of the European Commission’s Task force, the European Railway Agency is giving workshops all over Europe. At the same time, the Agency is supporting Member States in aligning their national rail regulatory framework with the European approach. The exercise will help to reduce the administrative burdens and costs for railway undertakings all over Europe. However, all stakeholders are encouraged to get involved in the discussions and logon to Notif-IT or the European Railway Agency’s website for more information.

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