European rail operator lobby group AllRail calls for a change to European Union directives to help boost cross-border rail services and loosen the grip low-cost short-haul air travel has across Europe.

AllRail responded to comments made in July by Germany’s federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing criticising language rules across European jurisdictions that mean drivers often have to change at the border if a service crosses one. 

“Anyone who wants to take the train to Spain or Portugal, for example, can quickly be on the road for more than a day and have to change trains several times. The plane has unbeatable advantages there,” Wissing said.

The lobby group derided this as one of several “inefficient practices” across European rail that could be solved relatively simply. AllRail said the extra expense caused by the language barrier was one of many reasons train travel is more expensive than air travel in Europe. 

“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,” said Katharina Dekeyser, AllRail’s policy coordinator. 

Current rail industry rules in Europe do not provide a single industry-wide language, unlike aviation which uses English universally. 

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By GlobalData

A case study of the issue can be found on the French-Spanish border, where SNCF services that begin in France cannot travel into Spain because the drivers do not speak Spanish. 

This has led to the current situation, in which passengers disembark French trains to be bussed across the border (as road users do not need to speak the language of the country where they are driving), and then re-embark on Spanish trains to complete their journey.