Where the Connecting Europe Express arrives in Strasbourg, and I talk about the reason behind this project, the EU Year of Rail, workers and the new generations
Time to visit Luxembourg city there was none, unfortunately. All I have seen is the station – which is cute – the hotel, and the Battenburg Intermodal Terminal (see yesterday’s post). But our two Instagrammers lumadeline and thetravellingonion had a little more time to explore, so you can go and check out their account of the journey to discover some corners of Luxembourg.
We are leaving around 10 AM with some logistical issues to take care of, but in general it is a quiet departure. All ceremonies in Luxembourg took place yesterday. Today we’ll have a short trip to Strasbourg.
Today is also the day of the new generations. To begin with, a group of students from Thionville, France comes on board. I find it heartwarming to see them welcoming the train with lots of EU and all of the EU nations flags. What a nice visual representation of the Connecting Europe Express mission.
Paul, one of the students in this class, contacted directly the European Commission to ask how his class could be involved. He was fascinated by the project because his own town, Thionville, is located really close to two other countries, Luxembourg and Germany. Border proximity makes one think of the issues related to connections and cross border travelling, I guess.
In any case, now his whole class is engaging in a hopefully informative and fun conversation with two of the Commission Directors for Transport on board, and he will travel with us until Strasbourg. Well done Paul!
In Thionville also the last change of locomotive takes place. However, right after our departure we get stuck because of a failed locomotive of a freight train just in front of us. This is the first time in 35 days we are encountering an issue causing a consistent delay, about 40 minutes. It didn’t happen to the Connecting Europe Express, but basically we have to wait until the train in front of us gets rescued, or their locomotive starts again. It goes to show that issues do happen, and all the parties involved in the complicated world of railways need to be fast and ready to solve problems in order to guarantee efficient services.
This seems like the right time to reflect upon what this epic journey is all about. Why was this organised, why is 2021 the EU Year of Rail, why now? Well, it was an opportunity, catching the momentum created by diverse wills and intentions which happened to match.
In the past few years, there was a strong push by the users and railways sector to improve rail services in Europe. These requests were well received by the EU institutions, not least because of the still rising, and worrying environmental concerns, which brought the EU to adopt the Green Deal policy as a priority for the foreseeable future.
Transport is a vital sector, as it accounts for 25% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions!
Now, it isn’t possible, or imaginable asking people to stop moving. So, the solution to ease transport emissions must necessarily pass by a shift to rail transport, and in cities to public transport I guess.
The advantages of rail transport are pretty clear. First, it can accommodate all kinds of users, from holidaymakers to daily commuters, from businesses to freight transport.
Then it is much more sustainable than other types of transport. Indeed, it accounts for only 0.4 % of greenhouse gasses emissions from the whole EU transport sector. It is also the only transport means that between 1990-2017 has consistently reduced its emissions and energy consumption, while increasingly using renewable energy sources.
It all seems pretty easy. So why don’t we do it right away? Well, here is where it gets complicated, and where we encounter all the issues that are still afflicting the sector, especially if we think in terms of an efficient EU-wide railways system for both passengers and freight.
In this blog, day after day, in between the lines perhaps and without entering into technical details, I have tried to mention the important issues, depending on where we were and the examples I had in front of my eyes. Throughout the journey, I have tried to provide a simple wide picture of the sector, how it works, what are the issues, and the ongoing projects.
Infrastructures, capacity, cross border connections, missing links, data sharing, ticketing, affordability, signalling, high-speed, regional connections, gauges, freight terminals, rolling highways, last-mile connections, innovation, digitalisation… these are just a few of the keywords, each representing a piece of the puzzle of the railway system in Europe.
I am not a technical expert, but I understood that it is much more complex than one would imagine. It takes time, and investments, especially to build the necessary infrastructures. It takes commitment from the sector and policy-makers to cooperate and create the necessary common rules. And it takes will, from the people and businesses who have the possibility to choose the way they want to move.
There is still a lot of work to do, but creating an affordable and efficient railways system in the EU, which can also become an alternative to flying, is absolutely possible.
Now, back to the journey. There are at least two categories I’d like to mention in the second last post of the journey.
For the first category, the opportunity is provided by some people protesting when we arrive in Strasbourg. Welcome to France :). Jokes aside, we seldom spoke about the 916,000 workers of the rail sector in the EU, at all levels. I’d like to mention them all, but I actually do not know the precise names of their roles, especially for the more technical positions. But they are of course the beating heart that allows the whole railway machine to function.
I also don’t know exactly what are the requests of this small group in Strasbourg, something about salaries I understand. However, tomorrow in Paris the European Transport Federation (ETF), representing the workers, is having a meeting with the European Commission to address the social issues too.
Finally, there is another category I have mentioned earlier in this post, perhaps the most important of all, the new generations. I have pointed out that today is their day. Change, especially the kind of change necessary to reduce our impact on the environment, might well be a generational change. It is vital for the new generations to be aware of the problems, of the possibilities, of the choices for the future of the EU, including the future of transport.
We are going to Strasbourg, where every month during the plenary session, Members of the European Parliament take important decisions for our present and future. Many policy and decision-makers, CEO’s, representatives of national, regional and local institutions have been on board of the Connecting Europe Express. Today and tomorrow especially.
However, I’d like to close this second last post by mentioning that today, at Strasbourg station, the focus of the reception will be “la Jeunesse et le ferroviaire” (the youth of today and the railways). A dialogue between decision-makers and a group of young citizens. What a splendid way, in the most politically significant of our many stops around Europe, to pave the way for the future of rail.
Tomorrow, our final day, we will reach Paris. I will provide some fun facts and stats, hopefully with a glass of champagne on my side!
Our mascot Chickee is also travelling on the Connecting Europe Express and having his own special journey. She also has her own Instagram account. Here are some of her adventures.