Switzerland: running trains in the EU might become an issue
Running trains in the European Union might become problematic for Switzerland. The authorisation procedure that allowed Swiss companies to run trains in all EU member states will in fact expire at the end of 2023 and the future is quite uncertain. The country is trying to have this procedure applied permanently, but the EU seems to be asking for too much.
As a source from the Federal Office of Transport (FOT) told RailFreight.com, the conditions put forward by the European Union would bring Switzerland a tad too close to the Union. The Swiss government has declined these conditions so far. If a new agreement is not found, Switzerland will have to carry out authorisation procedures with each EU country. This would cause authorisation procedures to be much longer and more complicated to obtain than they would be with a general agreement with the whole EU.
The current agreement for authorisation procedures
The current agreement to run trains throughout the Union was established by the European Railway Agency (ERA) in 2019. With this agreement, the ERA has been taking responsibility for vehicle authorisation, safety certification, and ERTMS trackside approval for trains running in the Union. When it comes to Switzerland, the agreement had a yearly duration and has been renewed every year, but this trend could come to a halt if a new agreement between the country and the Union is not found.
Under this regime, companies operating across EU borders rely on one single, integrated process to obtain vehicle authorisations, single safety certificates, and to request ERTMS trackside approval. They just have to contact the ERA office in Valenciennes, filing one single application through its One-Stop Shop IT tool. Upon receipt of an application, ERA assigns a project manager who is the personal contact for the applicant and who advises him/her throughout the process. Dedicated multilingual expert teams assess each application.
What is Switzerland doing?
The Swiss Federal Council held a consultation session on 22 February “to amend the Federal Railways Act in order to create the necessary foundations” to make the agreement permanent. As the FOT mentioned, a generally positive response transpired from the session, which led to the bill being forwarded to the Swiss Parliament. If the Parliament approves the bill, the ball will be in the EU’s court.
However, a positive outcome does not seem too close. “A full and lasting integration of Switzerland into European procedures also requires an adaptation of the Swiss-EU land transport agreement, which is currently not possible due to pending institutional issues between the two parties”, the FOT concluded. It remains to be seen whether a solution will be found before the end of the year, which is what Switzerland is hoping for.
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