MOVING FAST INTO A BORDERLESS TRANSPORT NETWORK
The Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) regulation is crucial to the energy transition process in the European Union. Parliament is working on the Commission’s revised proposal. It is critical to consider its scope and complementarity with other legislative proposals such as Refuel EU, Fuel Maritime, and AFIR, to name just a few.
Barriers between Member States must be eliminated, and in this specific case, I would focus my analysis on the railway, which, in the EU, develops at various speeds. Some physical and technical obstacles keep on persisting. Central Europe lives a different reality, with harmonise gauge and communication systems, which is not at all the reality of countries like Portugal and Spain. Both peripherals and, above all else, isolated in terms of rail from the rest of Europe.
However, despite better harmonization in Central Europe, intermodality is still a working process, and traveling between Member States still has its gaps. Addressing energy transition and sustainable transport is only possible by adequately implementing the trans-European transport network policy. This regulation aims to fill gaps and eliminate bottlenecks and technical barriers, which also implies strengthening territorial, economic, and social cohesion.
It is not just about building more and better infrastructures. It is about investing in the maintenance and technological development of existing ones. This is even more crucial for small and peripheral countries. Let us look at the case of Portugal, my country. Road transport is the only viable mean of transport for goods, and rail transport is yet to be an alternative. Due to the difference in gauge and problems in the communication system, Portugal has connectivity problems with the Spanish network, which does not allow it to have core rail networks connecting to Europe. In passenger transport, the plane dominates, with a degree of dependence that is not advisable, especially in a period of many upheavals in aviation and the transition to sustainable fuels.
Without high speed and with the main railway line mainly developed along the coast, Portugal needs to invest in complementary lines and promote some core lines inland. This is the only way to increase the connection with Spain and the rest of Europe. The Portuguese Recovery and Resilience Plan (Next Generation EU) investments are concentrated on the coast, with very little investment in the transport system to and from the interior.
I understand the need and even the rationality of building new (high-speed) rail lines in European gauge – even as a way to break the isolation – but as co-legislators, we must consider each country’s specificities, not forcing them into disproportionate investments and costs.
A note for the outermost regions, whose derogations or transitional regimes do not allow for the postponement of necessary investments in ports and airports. Those infrastructures must be part of the core European network. Only then will it be possible to maintain connections with the rest of Europe, which is crucial for regions that depend on air and sea transports. The transition process to sustainable fuels entails high costs, which is why all types of support are essential. Thus, being part of the core network is fundamental for the peripheral and outermost regions.
Europe is in a profound transition in transport sector. Along with the Fit For 55 package, the revision of the TEN-T regulation is crucial for a cohesive and sustainable EU. There must be a joint effort to make it a reality by 2050.