PRESS RELEASE BY THE MINISTRY FOR TRANSPORT AND INFRASTRUCTURE: Minister Joe Mizzi participates in the International Rail Forum in Prague

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Joe Mizzi has been invited to speak at this year’s International Rail Forum and Conference in Prague, a prestigious biennial forum that is becoming a leading event bringing together key policy makers with top railway sector officials, rail and freight experts and other key stakeholders. This is the first time that a Minister holding the Presidency has attended this conference.

During his intervention at the opening of the conference, Minister Joe Mizzi said that on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the EU, Malta has proudly taken the helm of the Council of the European Union. “Although we are the smallest EU member state, we are passionately dedicated and fully committed towards safeguarding the many achievements of the European Union and towards communicating the benefits of the EU project to the European citizens,” he said. He outlined that the Maltese Presidency will build upon the work carried out under the Dutch and Slovak Presidencies to enhance the sustainability and competitiveness of the EU transport sector and Malta will work tirelessly towards reinforcing the functioning of the internal market.

“As a member state with no railways, we believe that we can continue the momentum of previous presidencies in the shaping of new legislative instruments to facilitate development, safety and growth in the European railway sector. And I can assure you that we will do this in a truly neutral manner – as honest interlocutors, with no hidden agendas,” he added.

“From a regulatory perspective, we welcome the excellent work carried out under the past Presidencies of the EU Council, particularly by our TRIO partners – the Netherlands and Slovakia as well as Italy, Latvia and Luxembourg in paving the way for the adoption of the Fourth Railway Package. With the successful conclusion of the technical pillar of the package, we will now see an increasingly important and central role for the European Railway Agency. This will bring about the much needed streamlining of processes for vehicle authorisation and safety certification. I firmly believe that the adoption of this pillar will be a key enabler for a real single market for railway products. And that this single market will result in greater rail interoperability and efficiency that should lead to reduced costs of both rolling stock and railway traffic management systems in the longer term” Minister Mizzi emphasized.

He announced that the Maltese Presidency will also, in the coming months, take forward the proposal for a revision of the Regulation on Rail Passenger Rights. Since its entry into force in 2009, rail passenger rights legislation has been fundamental in helping passengers both understand and exercise their rights when travelling by rail in the European Union. The timely revision of this regulation should help further strengthen the existing legal framework, thereby improving the user experience for rail passengers within the EU. Ultimately, and in line with EU White Paper on Transport, improved passenger rights legislation will serve to increase the share of rail transport in comparison to other modes.

He went on to explain that since the mid-1990s, Europe’s transport infrastructure policy has focused on the development of a Trans-European Transport Network. Now, with new guidelines in place, EU Member States have committed to completing this strategic network within the next 30 years or so by removing traffic bottlenecks, by completing missing links and by overcoming technical barriers through harmonisation of standards. The development and completion of Europe’s TEN-T network and associated traffic management systems is not only important for seamless connectivity within Europe, but is also equally important for ensuring robust connectivity between the EU and its neighbouring countries and Asia.

Minister Mizzi explained that the continued work towards the completion of the TEN-T network is high on the agenda of the Maltese Presidency. It is increasingly clear, however, that EU grants will only be able cover a portion of the total investment costs in the rail sector required to realise the completion of the TEN-T. Further investment in the rail sector, particularly in new and improved rail infrastructure, and rail traffic management systems and technology, is fundamental to enhancing the competiveness of the sector. “To this end, under the Maltese Presidency, we will be building on the success so far of the Connecting Europe Facility in expediting discussions on the Multi-Annual Financial Framework in the mid-term review and exploring opportunities to increase the leverage of EU funds through further mobilisation of private capital in rail investment under the European Fund for Strategic Investments.”

During a question from the auditorium, Minister Mizzi was asked if the Maltese Government has any intention to build a railway line in the near future. He said that Malta once had a national railway service, however, competition from bus services had, at the time, resulted in the eventual closure of the service in the mid-1930s. He explained that from the 1980s onwards bus services in Malta had largely made way for private cars, with the inevitable result that our roads have become increasingly congested. “Unlike larger countries, however, we often do not have the luxury or space to build new road bypasses to alleviate our traffic bottlenecks,” the Minister added.

Over the last 4 years or so, the Maltese Government has adopted a new approach to transport policy, an approach designed to better manage travel demand and bring about a modal shift from cars onto public transport.

This started with root and branch reform of the national bus service, and today we’re starting to see more and more people using public transport. The introduction of urban rail systems could, quite conceivably, be the next stage in this modal shift policy. We will be studying this mobility option in great detail in the near future.

The Minister concluded by saying that the Ministry has organised a major conference to take place in Malta next month that aims to bring together public and sectors from across Europe as well as academia and civil society to have a focussed discussion on the planning and financing of urban rail systems in the EU.

During his stay in Prague, Minister Joe Mizzi had also the opportunity to hold a bilateral meeting with Matthew Baldwin, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission.

Source: Government of Malta