Written by Damiano Scordamaglia,

© Martin / Adobe Stock

As it has done every year since 1983, the EU selects a specific topic on which to raise awareness and encourage public debate throughout the year. 2021 is to be the European Year of Rail. A wide range of events will be organised to highlight rail’s challenges and opportunities and its contribution to a greener environment. During the December plenary session, Parliament is expected to vote on a legislative proposal on this topic, to promote rail as a sustainable, innovative and safe mode of transport.


In December 2019, the European Commission adopted a new development strategy, the Green Deal, to answer environmental challenges and address climate change. It aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and a more resource-efficient economy. To achieve this, it will be necessary to reduce transport emissions by 90 % by that date. Rail is an environmentally friendly transport mode in terms of CO2 emissions and energy efficiency, and during the coronavirus pandemic, it played a key role in transporting passengers and essential goods. Over time, however, its modal share has decreased for freight and stagnated for passengers. The European Year of Rail aims to give the rail sector additional support and increase its attractiveness.

European Commission proposal

On 4 March 2020, the Commission adopted a proposal for a decision to designate 2021 European Year of Rail (EYR) to promote this transport mode and boost its share of passengers and goods. With dedicated events, debates and promotional activities, the EYR is also intended to highlight rail’s contribution to EU cohesion, the economy and industry. Among other topics, it will cover those related to regional development, industrial competitiveness, sustainable tourism, employment, innovation, education, youth and culture, not forgetting improving accessibility for persons with disabilities and reduced mobility. With an estimated budget allocation of €8 million, the EYR will rely on national coordinators and an EU steering group. The EYR will coincide with the international arts festival Europalia, whose 2021 edition will be devoted to rail’s influence on the arts and its contribution to social, economic and industrial change.

European Parliament position

During the presentation of the draft report to Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) in June 2020, the rapporteur underlined EYR benefits such as giving visibility to rail as an attractive and sustainable transport mode. In its report adopted on 12 October 2020, the Committee advocated for EYR to inform passengers better on their rights and increase support for regional cross-border rail connections. It called for action to promote completion of the trans-European transport network (TEN-T). It also endorsed recommendations made by the Committee on Regional Development aimed at improving accessibility for the elderly, disadvantaged groups and to promote night trains. On 24 June 2020, Council agreed a common position for a negotiating mandate on the proposal. It asked the Commission to consider launching a feasibility study on an EU label to promote goods transported by rail. On 12 November 2020, despite budget uncertainties, a provisional agreement was reached, endorsed by the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee on 18 November and approved by TRAN on 1 December. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal during the December plenary session.

First-reading report: 2020/0035(COD); Committee responsible: TRAN; Rapporteur: Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg (Greens/EFA, Germany). For further information see our ‘At a Glance‘ note of November 2020.

Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘2021 the European year of rail‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.