2021 has been designated "Année Européenne du Rail" by Brussels. It will be the first year of the 4th Packet of reforms of the railway systems in the 27 countries of the European Union.
All domestic railway networks in Europe will now be open to competition. As we describe elsewhere, the process has begun in France to issue invitations to bid for contracts to operate regional train services. The process is slow and new to the regional authorities. Efforts by the Ministry of transport to interest bidders in intercity train services have not been successful so far. Otherwise, it is now possible for train operating companies to apply to create their own services on the national network.
An example is Railcoop that we have mentioned before. It is the first cooperative enterprise to propose train services. They need a capital of 1.5 million euros in order to obtain an operating licence. In January 2021, after 15 months, subscriptions had reached 1.2 million euros, so they are getting close. But to start their planned operations on the first route chosen, Railcoop will need to find about 4.5 - 5.0 million euros to finance rolling stock, staff, advances on tolls and much more.
RENFE has applied to operate 5 return services between Lyon and Marseille from
December 2021 with S100 TGV's (similar to TGV Réseau units). But their requests for slots conflict with current SNCF trains. We have no idea about the outcome of this project. It seems like a response to SNCF trying to enter the Spanish high speed network with a low cost service.
2021 will also see the 40th anniversary of the first TGV (between Paris and Lyon) and the 30th anniversary of the first German ICE. It will be 175 years since the Paris - Brussels main line was opened.
Brussels is keen to improve cross border train services in Europe (for passengers, freight). There are still many technical obstacles (electricity present or not, track and loading gauges differences, signalling). Hence the pressure to install the European cab signalling system, everywhere. France has its own cab system on TGV's and train protection systems for main lines. Thus SNCF is proceeding rather slowly to install ERTMS. First priority is on routes that cross borders like Thionville - Luxembourg, and international freight corridors. New locomotives and emu trains are equipped with ERTMS in the cab.
More than ever before, a surge has developed over the issue of reducing carbon emissions with ideas to replace short haul air services with intra European train services, a resurrection of the TEE network of the 1960's and 1970's. Maybe even the return of the sleeper upgraded for the 21st century
So much to look out for during 2021.