European Commission wants booking train tickets to be as easy as booking flights  

For the European Commission booking a train journey – within its realm of the European Union – must be as easy as booking a flight. Prices must also be more competitive. 

Flag of the European Union.

To support the transition to cleaner, greener, and smarter mobility, in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal, the European Commission adopted on 14 December 2021 four proposals that will modernise the EU’s transport system. 

  1. By increasing connectivity and shifting more passengers and freight to rail and inland waterways; 
  2. By supporting the roll-out of charging points, alternative refuelling infrastructure, and new digital technologies; 
  3. By placing a stronger focus on sustainable urban mobility;
  4. And by making it easier to choose different transport options in an efficient multimodal transport system, the proposals will put the transport sector on track to cutting its emissions by 90%.

Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, from the Netherlands, said: “Europe’s green and digital transition will bring big changes to the ways we move around. Today’s proposals set European mobility on track for a sustainable future: faster European rail connections with easy-to-find tickets and improved passenger rights support for cities to increase and improve public transport and infrastructure for walking and cycling, and making the best possible use of solutions for smart and efficient driving.”

Transport Commissioner, Adina Vălean, from Romania, said: “Today we are proposing higher standards along the TEN-T network, boosting high speed rail and embedding multimodality, and a new north-south Corridor in Eastern Europe. With our Intelligent Transport Systems Directive we are embracing digital technologies and data-sharing. We want to make travel in the EU more efficient – and safer – for drivers, passengers and businesses alike. The cities linked by EU infrastructure are our economic powerhouses, but they must also be lean cities – for inhabitants and commuters. That is why we are recommending a dedicated framework for sustainable urban mobility – to guide the faster transition to safe, accessible, inclusive, smart and zero-emission urban mobility.”

A smart and sustainable TEN-T

The TEN-T is an EU-wide network of rail, inland waterways, short-sea shipping routes, and roads. It connects 424 major cities with ports, airports and railway terminals. When the TEN-T is complete, it will cut travel times between these cities. For example, passengers will be able to travel between Copenhagen and Hamburg in 2.5 hours by train, instead of the 4.5 hours required today.

To address the missing links and modernise the entire network, today’s proposal:

  • Requires that the major TEN-T passenger rail lines allow trains to travel at 160 km/h or faster by 2040 thus creating competitive high-speed railway connections throughout the Union. Canals and rivers must ensure good navigation conditions, unhindered for example by water levels, for a minimum number of days per year.
  • Calls for more transhipment terminals, improved handling capacity at freight terminals, reduced waiting times at rail border crossings, longer trains to shift more freight onto cleaner transport modes, and the option for lorries to be transported by train network-wide. To ensure infrastructure planning meets real operational needs, it also creates nine ‘European Transport Corridors‘ that integrate rail, road, and waterways.
  • Introduces a new intermediary deadline of 2040 to advance the completion of major parts of the network ahead of the 2050 deadline that applies to the wider, comprehensive network. So new high-speed rail connections between Porto and Vigo, and Budapest and Bucharest – among others – must be completed for 2040.
  • Requires all 424 major cities along the TEN-T network to develop Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans to promote zero-emission mobility and to increase and improve public transport and infrastructure for walking and cycling.
Train symbol.

Increasing long-distance and cross-border rail traffic

Rail remains one of the safest and cleanest transport modes and is therefore at the heart of EU policy to make European mobility more sustainable. Today’s TEN-T proposal is accompanied by an ‘Action Plan on Long-Distance and Cross-Border Rail‘ that lays out a roadmap with further actions to help the EU meet its target of doubling high-speed rail traffic by 2030, and tripling it by 2050.

Although the number of people travelling by train has increased in recent years, only 7% of rail kilometres travelled between 2001 and 2018 involved cross-border trips. 

Making booking easier

To encourage more people to consider the train for trips abroad, the Action Plan sets out concrete actions to remove barriers to cross-border and long-distance travel, and make rail travel more attractive for passengers. The actions include:

  • a multimodal legislative proposal in 2022 to boost user-friendly multimodal ticketing;
  • allowing passengers to find the best tickets at the most attractive price and better supporting passengers faced with disruption, and a commitment to investigating an EU-wide VAT exemption for train tickets;
  • the repeal of redundant national technical and operational rules;
  • an announcement of proposals for 2022 on timetabling and capacity
  • management, which will boost quicker and more frequent cross-border rail services;
  • guidelines for track access pricing in 2023 that will ease rail operators’ access to infrastructure, increasing competition and allowing for more attractive ticket prices for passengers.

By 2030, the Commission will support the launch of at least fifteen cross-border pilot to test the Action Plan’s approach, ahead of the entry into force of the new TEN-T requirements.


Intelligent transport services for drivers

Smart mobility makes our mobility more sustainable. 

The Commission is therefore proposing to update the 2010 ITS Directive, adapting to the emergence of new road mobility options, mobility apps and connected and automated mobility. 

“Our proposal will stimulate the faster deployment of new, intelligent services, by proposing that certain crucial road, travel and traffic data is made available in digital format, such as speed limits, traffic circulation plans or roadworks, along the TEN-T network and ultimately covering the entire road network. It will also ensure that essential safety-related services are made available for drivers along the TEN-T network”, according to the press release. 

Today’s proposal will update the Directive in line with new priorities on better multimodal and digital services.

Train tracks.

Cleaner, greener, easier urban mobility

The new Urban Mobility Framework will benefit transport users and all the people around them. Cities are home to millions of people. 

“Today’s proposal addresses some of the mobility challenges stemming from this intense economic activity – congestion, emissions, noise. The Urban Mobility Framework sets out European guidance on how cities can cut emissions and improve mobility, including via Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans.” 

The main focus will be on public transport, walking and cycling. The proposal also prioritises zero-emission solutions for urban fleets, including taxis and ride-hailing services, the last mile of urban deliveries, and the construction and modernisation of multimodal hubs, as well as new digital solutions and services. Today’s proposal maps out the funding options for local and regional authorities to implement these priorities. In 2022, the Commission will propose a Recommendation to EU Member States for the development of national plans to assist cities in developing their mobility plans.


This is the second package of proposals to support a transition to cleaner, greener transport following the publication of the Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy in December 2020. The Strategy is a roadmap, guiding the sector towards the objectives of the European Green Deal.

Current state of affairs

The current state of affairs regarding booking international train tickets is laughable, or to weep. Depending on your perspective.

Already in March 2018, Danny wrote about how appalling booking international train tickets is. It’s hard, it’s time consuming, it’s frustrating and it requirers patience, knowledge and expertise.

Since then, the situation hasn’t improved. Will it in the future? That remains to be seen. 

Passenger rights

The Back On Track advocacy group studied the complete documents. It read:

“To make cross-border train travel attractive, passenger also need to be protected throughout the journey. The new Rail Passenger Rights Regulation adopted in April 2021, introduced for the first time an obligation to offer through-tickets from 7 June 2023, but on a rather limited basis. However, the limited obligation to offer them and the lack of existing market offer of throughtickets limits the protection of passengers, and thus reduces the attractiveness of rail. It is essential that passengers combining several trains into one journey are sure that they will not be stranded if one of the trains is late, regardless of whether the tickets were sold as a throughticket or as separate contracts. A solution could be to ensure at least that the passengers travelling on combined separate tickets can continue their journey in case of missed connections under certain conditions. The Commission will therefore address the issue of journey continuation in case of delays as part of the initiative on multimodal digital mobility services.”

“Passengers needing to connect between trains should be confident that they arrive in time or, failing that, that they will be provided with the necessary assistance to reach their destination. Ticket vendors and railway undertakings should be able to offer seats based on a level playing field, including well in advance of the actual train journey. Railway companies and ticket vendors should be able to offer attractive tickets without undue market barriers when accessing existing ticket vending channels, ticket and fare data as well as data and operations in reservation systems”, Back On Track read on pages 12 and 13. 

But, with which rolling stock?

The setting up of new rail services requires large investments in rolling stock, either by railway undertakings, by rolling stock leasing companies or by competent authorities where the service is provided under a public service obligation (PSO).

“Although most long-distance cross-border services can be operated commercially, there is a need to kick-start the availability of rolling stock for these services. Public support to the creation of pools of long-distance cross-border rolling stock, or to the mitigation of commercial risks for leasing companies when acquiring and leasing out long-distance cross-border rolling stock, could help generating the desired boost”, Back On Track reads on page 7.

“To boost the availability of rolling stock, the European Investment Bank (EIB) is now launching the Green Rail Investment Platform to assist investments by both public and private entities in rail projects through existing EIB products and through financial instruments made available by the Commission”, it reads on pages 7 and 8.


Belgian I10.

More on trains

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