German Transport Minister Criticises That Train Drivers Have To Be Changed At Borders Because Of Different Languages, And That This Increases The Cost
Aerial view of the last train station before Spain in the south of France, village of Cerbere.
(c) Jordi Verdugo, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Recently, Greenpeace issued a Report about how train fares are up to 30 times more expensive than planes in Europe.

This is not just down to unfair tax breaks for airlines but also inefficient practices in passenger rail.

German Transport Minister Volker Wissing confirms this. He states that, among other things, the train driver “has to be changed every time at the (internal EU) border…. All this has an impact on the price.”

He is right: EU passenger rail is being held back by the lingering fragmentation of the system along linguistic boundaries. It is finally Time to Act. We need One Europe and One Railway.

After 70 years of the fragmented current system, just 4-5% of travellers crossing borders internally within the EU use passenger rail.

Finally, key political stakeholders are recognising the problems. Germany is the EU’s largest Member State by population. It is located at the geographical centre of the continent.

Indeed, Transport Minister Dr Volker Wissing has recently identified major cost drivers that cause cross-border rail to be so much more expensive than flying. One of them is train drivers changing over at the internal EU borders, which would be avoided if a single language were adopted.

It is very misguided to believe that the current system for train drivers works well without any problems. Look at what has happened between Spain and France: due to the lack of language-qualified train drivers from incumbent SNCF, SNCF does not operate cross-border rail connections such as Cerbère (France) – Portbou (Spain) since last year. Passengers are transferred instead to cross-border buses, which are, for their part, not hampered by restrictive language requirements like in rail.

Germany’s Transport Secretary is right: A single language for EU Train Drivers would both reduce costs and make passenger rail more attractive. We encourage the EU Commission to publish a strong proposal for the recast of the Train Drivers’ Directive (2007/59/EC).As long as this does not happen, then there will never really be a Single European Railway Area with One Europe and One Railway

ALLRAIL Policy Coordinator Katharina Dekeyser